Chickenpox, also known as varicella, is a self-limited infection that most commonly affects children between 5-10 years of age. The disease has a worldwide distribution and is reported throughout the year in regions of temperate climate. The peak incidence is generally during the months of March through May. Lifelong immunity for chickenpox generally follows the disease. If the patient's immune system does not totally eliminate the presence of the virus, it may retreat to a dormant stage in the skin sensory nerve cell bodies where it is protected from the patient's immune system. The disease shingles (also known as "zoster") represents release of these viruses down the length of the skin nerve fiber and produces a characteristic painful rash. Shingles is most commonly a disease of adults.
What Is the Cause of Chickenpox?
The varicella-zoster virus (VZV) causes chickenpox. The disease is highly contagious -- over 90% of nonimmune individuals will develop chickenpox following exposure. VZV is communicable by both direct skin-to-skin contact and via respiratory droplets (for example, coughing, sneezing) from the infected individual. While the average incubation period from viral exposure to onset of symptoms is 12-14 days, symptoms may appear as early as 10 days or as late as 21 days after exposure to the virus.
What Are Chickenpox Risk Factors?
Anyone can develop chickenpox when exposed to someone with the disease. There are three categories of patients who are at risk for more serious problems should they develop chickenpox:
- Fetuses of non-immune pregnant women infected with VZV between weeks eight and 20 of their pregnancy or during the final two weeks of the pregnancy
- Immune-compromised individuals
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/3/2016
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