It is common for most individuals to contract the chickenpox virus during their childhood years. Approximately 90% of people experience chickenpox before age 15 and can recall the uncomfortable itchiness that comes with it for a long time.
The good news is that it is unlikely for someone to contract the virus again as an adult, as a second infection is rare in the same individual.
Despite this, it is still possible for teenagers and adults to develop chickenpox. Those who did not have the illness during childhood are more vulnerable to contracting it as an adult. As a result, it is essential to understand why chickenpox can be more severe in adults, the differences between adult chickenpox and shingles, and the key symptoms to watch out for.
In this article, we provide answers to these crucial questions.
Chickenpox tends to occur more severely in teenagers and adults than children. Symptoms typically appear approximately 10-21 days following exposure to the virus. Initial signs may include:
In the case of adults, the itchy chickenpox rash typically emerges on the face and scalp roughly a day after experiencing these initial symptoms. Itchy lesions may also develop on the chest, abdomen, arms, and legs. The number of these spots can vary among individuals.
These spots can progress into blisters, eventually forming scabs, and usually fade after about a week, sometimes taking 2-3 weeks to vanish completely.
Additional symptoms of chickenpox in adults encompass:
The chickenpox virus can remain dormant in a child's nerves after infection. Although it may not cause symptoms, reactivation of the virus can lead to shingles, which manifests as an itchy skin rash on one side of the body. Additional symptoms include tingling pain, fever, chills, headache, and fatigue.
Shingles cannot be transmitted from one person to another. The only way to develop shingles is to have previously contracted chickenpox. If someone who has never had chickenpox comes into contact with the fluid from a blistered shingles rash, they may develop chickenpox.
Shingles are most common in adults, and the risk of developing it increases with age and for those with weakened immune systems. Approximately 20-30% of adults will develop shingles.
A shingles vaccination is available for individuals between the ages of 70-79, making the illness less severe and of shorter duration if contracted.
The signs of chickenpox typically manifest between 10 days and 3 weeks following contact with an infected individual, often a contagious child. The virus spreads effortlessly through droplets, making it highly contagious. Chickenpox is more prevalent during winter and spring as a seasonal illness.
Symptoms of adult chickenpox usually disappear within 1–2 weeks after they appear.
Chickenpox symptoms tend to be more severe in adults, and the risk of developing complications from the infection is higher.
Blisters on the skin may get infected with bacteria and need antibiotic treatment. Hospital treatment may be necessary in rare cases of severe infection.
While there is no specific medication designed to treat chickenpox, there are various measures you can take to alleviate symptoms while the virus runs its course:
If your blisters show signs of infection, such as being hot, painful, or red, consult a doctor who may prescribe antibiotics. In severe cases, a physician might recommend antiviral medication.
For individuals who may be at a heightened risk of experiencing complications or who could potentially put others in danger, such as healthcare professionals who have not developed immunity to chickenpox, there is a vaccine that can safeguard against the virus.
To prevent the spread of chickenpox, it is essential to know that it is highly contagious and can be transmitted through the air from person to person.
The contagious period starts two days before the rash appears, so if you think you have chickenpox, it is recommended that you avoid going to work, crowded places, or areas with vulnerable individuals until your blisters have crusted over. Typically, this occurs about five days after the rash initially appears.
If you encounter any of the following symptoms, it's advisable to seek medical attention from a doctor or call the appropriate medical hotline:
Contacting your doctor is crucial if you plan to visit a doctor in person. This will allow them to make necessary arrangements to isolate you from potentially vulnerable patients.
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