Chickenpox Causes: Facts About the Virus

Chickenpox Causes

Story at-a-glance -

  • The chickenpox virus usually attacks just once in a lifetime. It commonly affects children, but in rare cases, can affect adults as well
  • Varicella zoster enters your system through the respiratory tract, and then eventually spreads to the lymphoid system. The virus has an incubation period of at least 14 days, after which it reaches its main target organ: your skin

Chickenpox is a viral infection that is highly contagious. But how does it spread from one person to another, and what factors make you more susceptible to this type of virus? Keep reading to learn more about the virus that causes chickenpox.

How Does Chickenpox Spread?

Also called the varicella zoster virus (VZV), the chickenpox virus is one of the eight herpes viruses that can infect humans. It is an airborne virus, so even if there is no direct physical contact, this virus can spread and wreak havoc on other people by lingering in the air.1 Some of the common methods of transmission of VZV include:2,3

  • Expulsion of small particles from the mouth (such as when talking, laughing, sneezing or coughing) of an infected person
  • Touching surfaces where the virus lurks or handling items used by an infected person
  • Breathing in particles of the virus expelled from the blisters (which are usually through scratching the itchy skin)
  • Physically touching the blisters
  • Being exposed to the saliva of someone with chickenpox

Varicella zoster enters your system through the respiratory tract, and then eventually spreads to the lymphoid system. The virus has an incubation period of at least 14 days, after which it then reaches its main target organ: your skin. This is when the symptoms — the itchy red rash or blisters — typically appear.4 The chickenpox virus usually attacks just once in a lifetime. It commonly affects children, but in rare cases, can affect adults as well.

Varicella Zoster Can Remain Dormant, and Then Reemerge as Shingles

The good news is that when you recover from chickenpox, you get a lifelong immunity to the disease. This is why most people have chickenpox only once in their life. However, the virus does not go away – instead, it stays latent in your nervous system tissues, near the brain and spinal cord.5

The virus will usually stay dormant for most of your life, but in some people it reactivates and then travels through the nerve pathways and manifests on the skin — a condition known as shingles.6 This disease is characterized by a rash of painful blisters, from the middle of the back around one part of the chest, up to the breastbone.

Shingles is not life-threatening, but it can lead to a lot of discomfort. It’s most common in people over age 60. People with weakened immune systems are also susceptible to shingles. In some patients, this disease can lead to postherpetic neuralgia, which leaves the skin painful even after the rash has disappeared.7

What Causes Chickenpox Complications?

The majority of varicella zoster infections lead to successful recovery. Nevertheless, it is vitally important to be extremely cautious if you have this disease. For example, keeping the blisters from popping is crucial, as they are prone to being infected. Signs of infection include redness and soreness around the chickenpox marks.8

Take note that there are also groups of people who are at a higher risk of complications to this illness, mainly because of their fragile immune system. These include infants, the elderly, people who have HIV or are undergoing chemotherapy, and those taking steroid medications.9 Adults who get chickenpox are also at a higher risk of complications compared to children. These complications may manifest as pneumonia, skin infections and lung infections.10

The varicella zoster virus may also cause complications in pregnant women who haven’t had chickenpox before, as well as her unborn child. One rare but severe complication is congenital varicella syndrome, which can lead to deformities in the unborn child.11

MORE ABOUT CHICKENPOX

Chickenpox: An Introduction

What Is Chickenpox?

Chickenpox Symptoms

Chickenpox Causes

Chickenpox Treatment

Chickenpox Prevention

Chickenpox Diet

Chickenpox FAQ


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