What is Chicken Pox?
Chicken pox is a viral infection caused by the varicella zoster virus. The varicella zoster virus is very common, and is the original root of the herpes zoster virus, which causes shingles. Despite their names and similarities, neither are considered sexually transmitted infections (although they both certainly could be under some circumstances).
Chicken pox is frequently thought of as a children’s ailment. Most individuals are exposed to varicella zoster rather frequently. However, most are also immune; those that are not may develop chicken pox. It is thought that one can only suffer from chicken pox once, and this is generally true, because the body constructs a proper immunity to the varicella zoster virus. That said, varicella zoster may strike more than once, particularly in individuals that are immunocompromised.
Chicken pox is an itchy ailment known for causing extended pain and suffering on the skin of those that suffer from it. The bright red spots caused by chicken pox are an obvious indication of infection. This is beneficial for everyone, as the varicella zoster virus is very contagious.
Who gets Chicken Pox?
Varicella zoster is the ultimate cause of chicken pox. As a virus, varicella zoster an cause symptoms in anyone that is not immune and is exposed to the virus. Viral immunity does not mean that the virus does not invade the body, but rather that the body’s immune system is so well-prepared to handle it that the virus is eliminated before any symptoms can present themselves. Thus, those who are not immune are those who have not yet built up sufficient antibodies against the virus for their immune system to use and repel it. Antibodies are built up by viral exposure, be it through contact with infected individuals or by vaccination.
As a consequence of this, most of the individuals who suffer from chicken pox are young. Children who have not been vaccinated against varicella zoster are most vulnerable, as they have had the least amount of time to develop an immunity to varicella zoster through extended contact. Thus, exposure to varicella zoster is likely to cause a case of chicken pox. Children, and those that are frequently around other people, are the most likely to develop a case of chicken pox, as the are most likely to be exposed to the virus. Isolation as a measure of lifestyle can make one less likely to suffer from chicken pox by reducing the odds of exposure to the varicella zoster virus, but this is a double-edged sword; they will also build no immunity to the virus, which will make them vulnerable in the future if and when they should be exposed to the virus.
In addition to those who have not yet built up an immunity to the virus, those that suffer from a form of immunodeficiency are also more likely to suffer from chicken pox. The body can develop an immunity to the virus by assembling anti-bodies coded to mark varicella zoster as a target for the body’s white cells. This results in the virus getting taken down by the immune system before it can do any harm. The caveat is that this requires that the body have sufficient white cells. All the antibodies in the world aren’t any good if they can’t paint targets for the white cells to intercept. Thus, those that suffer from a weakened immune system may be unable to repel varicella zoster, and those that come to have their immune systems weakened later may also be vulnerable.
What causes Chicken Pox?
Chicken pox is caused by the varicella zoster virus. Exposure to varicella zoster is possible through a variety of channels, but the root cause of chicken pox is always the varicella zoster virus itself. Viruses operate by invading cells and altering the way they operate. Cells infected by a virus will replicate the virus in their interior until they eventually rupture, exploding into a small cloud of other viruses, the same as the original. Viruses are not technically alive—they are little more than data in a capsule (this is how computer viruses got their name). Thus, any exposure to the virus causes the possibility that the virus will find its way into a cell and hardwire it to produce more of itself, allowing the virus to spread through the system and cause symptoms.
Some elements of chicken pox are caused by the virus itself, and some are caused by the immune response. Many symptoms of many ailments are actually the expression of the immune system trying to purge the foreign invader—inflammation, for instance, when coupled with redness, is a sign that the body has increased blood flow to an area. This has benefits twofold: increasing the blood flow increases the temperature, which may be enough to kill off invading pathogens, and it also allows more white cells to flood the area and attack the pathogens before they can do more damage. As with most viruses, chicken pox is a blend of these.
Exposure to varicella zoster is as simple as exposure to the chicken pox. Anyone displaying symptoms of the chicken pox should be considered contagious. So should any clothes they have been wearing and anything that has been making direct ksin contact with them. This is of no consequence to those who are already immune to the virus (those who are will only be made even more redundantly immune by repeated subsequent exposure after the virus has lost any ability to cause symptoms). Those who are not immune to the virus are fairly likely to contract it.
Following initial exposure and development of immunity, being infected with varicella zoster and suffering a subsequent case of the chicken pox is primarily about loss of immunity. If the immune system should grow weak for any reason, this may be enough to allow varicella zoster through the defenses again to cause an even more severe case of chicken pox.
What does Chicken Pox cause?
Chicken pox causes several symptoms which range from irritating to legitimately concerning. Cases of chicken pox may be relatively better or worse, naturally, but there are certain elements that are properly associated with a case of the chicken pox that must be considered. These symptoms are easily recognizable, and most already are very well familiar with them, either because they have suffered from them themselves or because they have seen someone else suffer from them.
The first and most obvious symptoms, and perhaps the one most strongly associated with chicken pox, is the dusting of red pustules that afflicts the skin. These eruptions in the skin generally have a token amount of fluid in them, and may be thought to resemble mosquito bites. However, they are generally a deeper shade of red, have no apparent point of penetration (as a mosquito bite does), and they tend to itch much, much worse. This rash is why chicken pox is actually called a ‘pox’. This is the primary symptom and generally the one that receives the most specialized care.
The second symptom is equally important: fever. AS the body fights off an infection, it will frequently increase its own temperature. This is intended as a means to fight off pathogens, and it does work to kill many pathogens off. Unfortunately, an increase in body temperature past certain bounds threatens damage to the body’s other systems, which do not handle the extra degrees any better than the viruses and bacteria do. The chicken pox is quite likely to cause a fever, and does in most cases. Frequently, the fever is actually the first symptom to present itself, and this frequently raises flags about chicken pox. Chicken pox has a tendency to spread quickly among children, so the arrival of a fever when several classmates or playmates are suffering from chicken pox is a fairly tell-tale sign.
Cold and flu-like symptoms may accompany the chicken pox, but this is not always true. A sense of malaise usually does, as does a general sense of weakness and a stiffness in the joints. These are again caused by the virus itself and the relevant immune response. Individuals suffering from chicken pox are frequently very lethargic and prone to sleeping long hours. There is little reason to fight this.
The subsequent effects of chicken pox are largely secondary. The pustules themselves are very itchy. This itchiness leaves individuals suffering from chicken pox very prone to scratching. This is especially true with children, who do not always have the same amount of self-control as adults do. Physical excoriation and scratching of the pustules can lead to scarring. Clawing open a pustule leaves an open sore. Open sores are very likely to scar on their own through healing. These scars may wear off over time, or else they may be quite permanent and remain with the individual for the rest of their life.
The open sores left by the trauma of the skin on or around various pustules is vulnerable to a secondary infection. Secondary infections vary broadly. Some are relatively harmless and need only be treated with basic antiseptic, after which everyone can get on with their day. Some secondary infections, however, are far too serious to elucidate here. Among these extremely serious ailments is MRSA, a bacteria that is almost completely immune to all forms of antibiotic intervention. The human body cannot properly fight off many of these secondary infections. All in all, secondary infections (however rare it may be that they are truly serious) are something that is better left avoided through prevention: all measures should be taken to prevent scratching.
What does Chicken Pox treatment look like?
Treatment for the chicken pox consists predominately of prevention and symptomatic treatment. As a virus, it is very difficult to treat varicella zoster. There are several anti-viral drugs on the market, but they have a limited range of effects (antibiotics work very, very differently from these). Thus, the most common forms of chicken pox treatment involve treatments that address specific symptoms, rather than the underlying cause in the form of the varicella zoster virus.
The first order of business is the itching. The nonstop itching and pain of the pustules may be somewhat alleviated with a variety of anti-itch creams and products. Among these are calamine lotion and benadryl. These are both agents that serve to ‘dry up’ the pustules and nullify their ability to itch. These rarely produce a complete removal of the itching, but they do contribute, and can help someone with chicken pox get a good night’s sleep (which will help them fight the ailment off somewhat more easily). Other anti-itching agents are also available over the counter.
The fever is next. Fever reducers may be a good idea for individuals suffering from the chicken pox. Luckily, most fever reducers on the market also double as pain reducers. The pustules formed by chicken pox can be painful in addition to itching, so the painkilling power of an analgesic is frequently a powerful ally for ousting the symptoms of chickenpox. Fever reducers are a must for very high fevers that have started to cause symptoms in and of themselves; this is something a medical professional should be handling, far and away.
However, failing symptomatic treatment, most of the treatment for the chicken pox is a matter of prevention. First and foremost, those that are not immune should avoid unnecessary constant exposure. Light exposure on a semi-regular basis may leave an individual immune to the chicken pox before they actually suffer from a big enough exposure to cause a proper case of it. This is beneficial for all involved. Avoiding exposure to infected individuals through the use of long sleeves, gloves, masks and etcetera is a good idea for individuals that have no option but to work with infected individuals. This prevents both the spreading of the virus to the individual and to those around the individual even if the individual is immune.
The ultimate final word in preventing chicken pox is vaccination. Vaccination exposes the body to a controlled dose of a ‘dead’ variant of the varicella zoster virus. The immune system immediately seizes upon it and builds the appropriate antibodies to fight it off, and this ability to fight the dummy virus extends to the real one. This leaves the body immunized against the assault of the real virus when the body should be exposed to it in the future. This is how all vaccinations work, and it is quite effective for the varicella zoster virus.
How do I know if I have Chicken Pox?
The chicken pox can generally be diagnosed at a simple glance. The red pustules that stem from the varicella zoster virus are telltale signs of a case of chicken pox. Additionally, it is easy to predict cases of chicken pox based on exposure to varicella zoster, which in turn can be predicted by the presentation of chicken pox in others. This is especially true in children, who are most prone to varicella zoster. Before the rash that indicates chicken pox can begin, a fever usually manifests.