Dr. Larry Jaeger is the medical director of Advanced Dermatology of New York, PC and specializes in the area of Medical, Cosmetic and Surgical Dermatology.

Chicken pox is caused by the varicella-zoster
virus (also known as the Human Herpes Virus
3). The infection causes a widespread
eruption of small red, itchy blisters
(vesicles). The vast majority of infections
occur before age 10. The virus is spread by
direct contact and respiratory route
(sneezing). The rash does not appear until 10
to 21 days after infection. The patient is likely
infectious (can spread the virus) 4 days prior and 5 days after the rash appears.
The child may have low grade fever, malaise, and
headache. The severity of infection is dependent on the
age of the patient. The older the patient the more severe
the infection can be. Children and adults can have severe
complications and even die from the infection although it
is not common. Simple bacterial infection of the skin
lesions is the most common complication. Aspirin is
absolutely prohibited in children with chickenpox as
Reye’s syndrome can cause neurologic damage and liver
failure. As with any infection, immunosuppression can
allow a more severe infection.
The infection is usually identified by a physician but may
be verified with several different laboratory tests. Antiviral medicine should be
started early to help reduce the severity of the disease and decrease the chance
of spreading it. With or without treatment immunity is lifelong. The reactivation of
varicella-zoster virus in the elderly is known as shingles and is often due to
immunosuppression. Women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant should
not be exposed to anybody who has chickenpox. Serious complications and
congenital malformations may result.
A vaccine for varicella-zoster is available and is recommended.