5 Things You Should Know About Chickenpox

Everyone knows the telltale sign of chickenpox. You get that itchy, red rash and, immediately, you know what’s coming next. But did you know that a rash isn’t the only symptom? (Other symptoms include fever, headache, loss of appetite and fatigue.) Or that there could be nearly a month between first exposure and any outward symptoms?

Here are five other things you might not know about this common virus:

1. Chickenpox Spreads Easily And Is Very Contagious

Chickenpox is extremely contagious. It is easily spread through the air when someone with the virus coughs or sneezes. A person with chickenpox is contagious for 1-2 days before they show symptoms, but it takes between 10 and 21 days to develop the rash, meaning you could go more than two weeks after being exposed to chickenpox before you start showing signs. To prevent further spreading, those infected should stay home until the rash has “crusted over,” which usually takes about a week. The good news? For most people, getting chickenpox once gives immunity for life.

2. You Can Usually Manage Chickenpox At Home

If you or your child has chickenpox, don’t be surprised if the doctor tells you to stay home. If you go to the doctor, you just risk spreading it to everyone else in the building. Dr. Cindy Gellner, a pediatrician with the University of Utah, says a phone call to the doctor is usually enough.

“If your pediatrician does want to see you, they will give you special instructions about how to check your child in,” Gellner told The Scope.

There are things you can do to help the symptoms at home. The Mayo Clinic recommends a cool bath with baking soda, calamine lotion and antihistamines to help with itching. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen can also help with fever and pain.

3. There’s A Chickenpox Vaccine

According to the CDC, the chickenpox vaccine is safer than actually getting chickenpox. While you can still get the virus even after vaccination, the symptoms are usually milder, meaning fewer blisters, little or no fever and a quicker recovery time. For the best protection, the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend children get two doses of the vaccine: one at 12-15 months and the second between the ages of 4 and 6.

4. It’s Possible To Get Chickenpox As An Adult

Most of us had it when we were kids, but if you didn’t, listen up. Chickenpox can be even worse when you’re an adult. In fact, having chickenpox when you’re older means you’ll be more likely to die from the virus or have serious complications. Adults only account for five percent of chickenpox cases every year, but they also account for 55 percent of the deaths and 33 percent of chickenpox-related hospitalizations.

5. Even If You’ve Had Chickenpox, You’re Still At Risk For Shingles

Shingles is caused by the same virus as chickenpox, but while you’re most likely immune from getting chickenpox a second time, having the virus does not prevent you from getting shingles. That’s because the chickenpox virus stays in the body, lying dormant, but can reactivate years later. In some people, chickenpox stays inactive in the body, but for others, it “wakes up” when disease, stress or aging weaken the immune system. When the virus becomes active again, it causes shingles, not chickenpox.

For more information about chickenpox from the CDC, click here.