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You Don't Want to Get Chickenpox As An Adult—Here's Why

Discussion in 'Microbiology' started by Ghada Ali youssef, Jul 26, 2017.

  1. Ghada Ali youssef

    Ghada Ali youssef Golden Member

    Dec 29, 2016
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    Chickenpox is one of those things you probably got as a kid—either spontaneously or after your parents deliberately exposed you at an early age. Why? Because chickenpox in adults is way worse—or, at least, that's what people say.

    But it’s not just folklore—chickenpox actually is worse when you’re an adult.
    “In general, many infectious diseases are worse in adults than in children,” Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior associate at the John’s Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells SELF. “Adults may have more severe complications and may require hospitalization.”

    First, some basics: Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease caused by the varicella zoster virus. It can cause itching, tiredness, and a fever, but the hallmark of the disease is its fluid-filled, blister-like rash. The rash usually shows up on your stomach, back, and face, and then can spread to your entire body. According to the CDC, chickenpox can cause between 250 to 500 itchy blisters that dry up and form scabs in four or five days, and it can be especially serious in babies, adults, and people with weakened immune systems.

    While it’s possible to “just” have the chickenpox as an adult, Adalja says it can also cause complications like pneumonia or encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain. Even cases without complications are more disruptive for adults vs. children, since adults typically have more daily obligations, he points out.

    Richard Watkins, M.D., an infectious disease physician and associate professor of internal medicine at Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells SELF that chickenpox is especially concerning in pregnant women who aren’t already immune to the disease because they can transmit it to the fetus. “This can result in birth defects or fetal death,” he says.

    If you've somehow managed to avoid contracting chickenpox thus far, you probably don't want to continue tempting fate.
    Chickenpox is incredibly contagious for people who haven’t had the disease. Once you’ve had it, you typically won’t get it again, per the National Institutes of Health, but it does happen in rare instances. Not only that, having chickenpox opens you up to the possibility of getting shingleslater in life, which is a painful rash caused by a reactivation of the chickenpox virus.

    Before children were routinely vaccinated for chickenpox, virtually all people were infected by the time they became adults, according to Mayo Clinic. However the number of cases of chickenpox and hospitalizations due to the disease are down dramatically due to the chickenpox vaccine.

    Yep—there's a chickenpox vaccine now. The CDC recommends that kids get the first dose between 12 to 15 months old and the second dose at least three months after that (or between 4 to 6 years old). Of course, if the chickenpox vaccine wasn’t around when you were a child (it was licensed in 1995), you may need to get it as an adult. If you're 13 or older and never had chickenpox, the CDC recommends getting two doses at least 28 days apart. While it’s on-hand at most pediatrician offices, you’ll probably have to make a special call to your doctor to order the shots in advance.

    If you happen to contract chickenpox, you don’t have to just wait it out and deal. Anti-viral medications like acyclovir can help diminish the symptoms and contagiousness, Dr. Adalja says, so call your doctor as soon as you suspect you have the disease. Non-aspirin medications, such as acetaminophen, can also help relieve a fever, if you develop one.

    Luckily, chickenpox is becoming pretty rare thanks to the vaccine, but it does crop up here and there. And it's helpful to know that there's actually something to that oft-repeated claim that you don't want to get chickenpox as an adult.



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