Chickenpox is one of the most common childhood diseases and is extremely contagious. Since 2004, they can be prevented with a vaccine. The most typical symptom of chickenpox is a red, itchy rash. This can be treated well with cooling compresses and lotions that soothe the itching. While the disease usually takes a harmless course in children, it is often associated with complications in adults. Chickenpox is especially dangerous during pregnancy.
Chickenpox (varicella) is a highly contagious viral disease transmitted by droplet and smear infections. On the one hand, one can thus become infected with the viruses by direct contact with the highly infectious fluid in the skin sores. On the other hand, infection by coughing, sneezing or speaking is also possible because the varicella-zoster viruses can travel a few meters in the air. In the air, however, the virus loses its potential for infection after about ten minutes, so there is no reason to fear transmission over bedding or toys.
Children suffering from chickenpox are primarily children of kindergarten age - this is why chickenpox, just like measles or rubella, is one of the typical teething troubles. By the age of 14, about 90 percent of all children have had chickenpox. The typical chickenpox season is winter and spring.
Anyone who once has chickenpox is generally immune to the disease for the rest of their lives. In exceptional cases, however, chickenpox can also occur a second time: this is usually the case when the first onset of the disease was very mild or early in childhood.
A characteristic symptom of chicken pox is a red, itchy rash. In most cases, the red spots in several spurts form everywhere on the body. In the center of the patches, small blisters develop over time, filled with a clear, highly infectious fluid. After some time, the bubbles burst and the spots crust.
Most of the blisters form on the abdomen, back and face. Also on the legs and arms arise red spots, but usually much less than the trunk. In rare cases, the mucous membranes on the mouth and nose as well as the genitals and the anus may be affected.
In addition to the rash, fever, headache and body aches and a general sense of tiredness sometimes occur. Most of these symptoms are already noticeable before the rash breaks out.
It is important that especially in children care is taken that they do not scratch the chickenpox. Because scratching, the bubbles can ignite and it can lead to serious skin infections that can even lead to blood poisoning (sepsis). Therefore, the smaller nails should be cut as short as possible. In particularly bad cases, thin cotton gloves can help.
Chickenpox: duration and course
The incubation period for chickenpox is usually between 14 and 17 days - but in some cases it can be a few days shorter or longer. A risk of infection does not exist until about the onset of the disease, but already about two days earlier.
Once the chickenpox has broken out, it usually lasts between five and ten days, until the last vesicles become encrusted and the disease is no longer contagious. Before the chicken pox is healed, sufferers should not come into contact with healthy people who did not have chickenpox.
Chickenpox is usually harmless, but there are occasional complications - especially in children under one year of age and in adults over the age of 16: in rare cases, meningitis or pneumonia may be triggered. Occasionally it can also lead to death by chickenpox, are then affected mostly people with immunodeficiencies or pregnant women.
Chickenpox in pregnancy
Chickenpox is relatively uncommon during pregnancy as only about three in 100 pregnant women have no antibodies to the disease. For these three percent, however, chickenpox is a dangerous disease, because they are often associated with complications in pregnant women. Pregnant women who have had contact with a person suffering from chicken pox should therefore be given antibodies to the virus for safety (immunoprophylaxis).
If a woman suffers from chickenpox during pregnancy, the pathogens can be transmitted via the placenta to the unborn child - but this happens only in about 25 percent of cases. The risk that the child will actually be harmed by the virus, is still significantly lower - it is depending on the date of transmission between one and two percent.
Particularly dangerous is an infection between the 8th and the 20th Week of pregnancy, as develop during this time, the limbs and organs of the child and it can come through the chickenpox to malformations. It may include skin defects, damage to the nervous system, eye diseases and malformation of the skeletal system occur. In the worst case, the infection can result in a miscarriage.
Chickenpox in babies
It is particularly critical for newborns if the mother suffers from chicken pox shortly before or after birth. The child will then no longer transmit antibodies from the mother and thus does not have a sufficient immune protection in case of infection.
Since the immune system of the newborn can not yet form its own antibodies, the chickenpox often take a difficult course in such cases. To prevent this, the newborn in a disease of the mother are usually injected with antibodies against the varicella-zoster virus (immunoprophylaxis).
Chickenpox in adults
A primary infection with Windpoken in adulthood is extremely rare. If it occurs, the disease usually takes a more severe course than in children. As a rule, adults develop significantly more itchy patches, which can be re-formed over a period of up to four weeks.
Frequently, the rash is accompanied by fever, which can rise to over 40 degrees. Even complications such as liver inflammation, pneumonia, meningitis and gastrointestinal discomfort occur in adults - especially in adults with a weakened immune system - significantly more often than in children.