Feb 232013

Varicelled is a non-existent term in the English dictionary. But the word rings in our minds, the infectious viral disease that would have inevitably affected us at some point in our lives. For me, it all started with a fever and liberal body pain for the first two days. But when I looked at the mirror and viewed spots, I realized it was not a game of connect-the-dots. It was chicken pox.

At least the dots match the curtain

At least the dots match the curtain

The first reactions were, how on earth could this be possible? It seemed so out of place for an adult like me to get chicken pox. But then frustration crept in when mom revealed that I was the only one in our family to not have this disease when I was a kid. So the first health action that I immediately put up for me was.

Know your Vaccines

How many times we as parents have noted the new vaccines that we probably never heard of when children, but exist for our kids? Chickenpox is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV) and the vaccine available for this is the varicella vaccine. This is a live (attenuated) virus administered to protect against the viral disease. As per immunization information for this vaccine, all children should get 2 doses of chickenpox vaccine starting at age 1. Some teens and adults may also need this vaccine if they didn’t get 2 doses of the vaccine or chickenpox disease when they were younger.

So it meant, that even as an adult, I should possibly have been vaccinated for chicken pox (2 shots in a span of 4 to 8 weeks). Now some more self-learning is pending to do on all my other immunizations.

Well, I had spots randomly and gradually appearing all across my body. I quarantined myself as instructed by my general practitioner (GP) and prepared myself to ride the tough days ahead. The next part was to understand if my family members are not affected due to the exposure. I learnt that people who haven’t had chickenpox and expose themselves to an ill family member should get vaccinated within five days to cut the risk of developing the disease.

Most people who get the vaccine will not get chickenpox. If a vaccinated person does get chickenpox, it is usually mild—with fewer blisters and mild or no fever. There are two schools of thought floating on this, with the other school believing that varicella vaccination does not help much. But based on some practical experiences in my relatives circle, I feel the chickenpox vaccine does indeed prevent from a severe form of the disease. So the immediate task in hand was to instruct my spouse and kids to get vaccinated (potential exposure being 2 days). Quick vaccination apparently cuts the risk of chicken pox after exposure.

Chicken pox in adults

How severe was this disease for adults? Almost every literature that I read, pointed out to a disheartening message. I learnt that chickenpox tends to be more severe in adults than children, and adults have a higher risk of developing complications. As per this Wikipedia article:

In adults, the disease is more severe, though the incidence is much less common. Infection in adults is associated with greater morbidity and mortality due to pneumonia, hepatitis, and encephalitis. In particular, up to 10% of pregnant women with chickenpox develop pneumonia, the severity of which increases with onset later in gestation. In England and Wales, 75% of deaths due to chickenpox are in adults. Inflammation of the brain, or encephalitis, can occur in immunocompromised individuals, although the risk is higher with herpes zoster. Necrotizing fasciitis is also a rare complication.

It was important for me to understand from my GP how could I prevent such complications. My GP’s prescribed medicine list included Acivir (Aciclovir) which I had to take 4 hourly. This was an antiviral medicine, which was targeted to help reduce severity of virus replication and other complications. Literature points out that adults with chickenpox may be benefitted by taking antiviral medicine if treatment is started early in the course of the illness (at least within 48 hours after rashes are first noticed).

Learnings summarized

  1. While chickenpox is a mild disease for children, adults usually get more sick.
  2. The Chickenpox Varicella vaccine is the best way to prevent chickenpox.
  3. If you have already been diagnosed with chicken pox, antiviral medicines can be prescribed to reduce complications.
  4. The pox rashes do tend to itch a lot. Self control in not scratching them and building discipline in allowing the scars to heal is extremely important.
  5. The actual cure for the disease is attained through our body’s brilliant immune system that develops antibodies, which ensures that we never get this disease again. We can get a ton of information on how this works from the web.

As I recover from this disease, I wanted to sign off with a video on how a neutrophil (part of our immune system), chases and engulfs a bacterium among a cluster of red blood cells.