Chicken Pox Incubation Period

If you are an adult today, you likely had chickenpox when you were a kid, or you knew someone who did. Caused by the varicella-zoster virus, chickenpox used to be quite common, but it has become rarer these days, thanks to vaccines. Chicken pox is still around, however, and anyone can still contract it. It is important to remember that the chicken pox incubation period actually begins well before any symptoms appear.

Chicken Pox Incubation Period

You can catch chicken pox in many ways. If you come into contact with someone who has the blisters, that can be enough to give it to you. You might also get it from sheets or clothing that someone with chicken pox has worn. You can even get it from airborne droplets released when someone coughs or sneezes.

But you can also get chicken pox and not know it immediately, thanks to the chicken pox incubation period. This is a period in which you have the virus in your body, but no symptoms have shown up yet. This is typically 7 to 21 days from exposure. Unfortunately, you can be contagious before you show a rash – so if you have been exposed to chicken pox, you might be in an incubation period right now, and be contagious without having any signs at all.

Those at highest risk include anyone who has never had chicken pox, anyone who has never had the chicken pox vaccine, and those who are very young – usually aged 10 and under.

Chicken Pox Contagious Period

Remember that a person is contagious from a few days before the rash appears until the rash has crusted over and the lesions are healing. This means that you can have chicken pox and give it to someone else before you even have a rash! That’s why 90% of all those who come into contact with a household member with chicken pox will get the virus.

Even those who have been vaccinated can still get chicken pox, though they get a much milder version, known as "breakthrough varicella." This means they have very few lesions on their body, but they are still highly contagious.

How Do I Know My Child Has Chicken Pox?

Usually, the way your child looks is enough to suspect chicken pox. The lesions are often tiny red bumps that appear everywhere on the body and face. They start on the scalp and face and then move down, and usually appear in waves, up to 500 of them over the span of the illness. Other symptoms might include loss of appetite, feeling irritable and tired, headache, coughing, fussiness in much younger children, and of course, fever. The rash itself will be itchy and annoying to a child of any age, and will make them very uncomfortable, even after measures to alleviate the itching have been taken.

What to Do If I Think My Child Has Been Exposed to Chicken Pox

If your child has already had chicken pox or has been given the vaccine, do nothing – they are probably immune to the illness. However, if your child has been exposed to someone who has chicken pox and they do not have these protections, get them vaccinated as soon as possible. Though it might not keep them from getting it, it can make the case much milder.

Remember that this needs to be done within 3 to 5 days after exposure to chicken pox. But since the chicken pox incubation period is so long, your child might have been exposed to someone at school or day care, and not be aware of the exposure until it is too late to get the vaccine.

How to Treat Chicken Pox

Parents want to treat chicken pox immediately and make it go away; however, there is little help for the problem other than waiting. Chicken pox will run its course without medications, so it is important to alleviate the symptoms. There are some medications that might help make the duration easier to bear.

1.  Medications

These medications below might help make your child more comfortable with chicken pox.

  • ŸZovirax. If this medication is given within 24 hours of the onset of lesions, your child might suffer through chicken pox for a shorter period of time. This is usually offered to children who are affected in the lungs and brain by the illness.
  • ŸVarizig. This is used for those with weakened immune systems, such as very small children, the elderly, pregnant women, premature infants and adults with no immunity. It must be given by injection within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.
  • ŸOTC Antihistamine. These medications are designed to prevent swelling, inflammation and itching, all of which are problems associated with chicken pox.
  • ŸAntibiotics. Sometimes skin infections occur in those who are itching at the lesions. In this case, antibiotics might be prescribed to help combat the infection and make the child feel better.

2.  Home Remedies

You can make your child feel better with various home treatments. These include oatmeal or baking soda baths, the use of calamine lotion, a gargle of salt water to relieve sores in the mouth, Tylenol given for fever, keeping the skin clean and moisturized, etc. Small children can wear mittens, or you can trim their fingernails to avoid the scratching.

Ultimately, the only way to avoid chicken pox is to get vaccinated. The vaccine is effective in 99% of those who get it; and even those who do get chicken pox later will have much milder symptoms. A child should receive the vaccine at the age of 12 to 15 months, and again at the age of 4 to 6 years. 

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