Common and mild, chickenpox is an infection which occurs mainly in children. The condition can be more serious in adults however, and is also very dangerous for pregnant women (as it can severely affect fetus and newborn babies). An attack provides life-long immunity, however the virus remains dormant and can reappear later in life as shingles.
Chickenpox is caused by the varicella zoster virus and is carried in droplets through the air. After infection, it takes 10-21 days for a widespread rash, consisting of clusters of small, red, itchy spots which become fluid filled blisters after a few hours. After several days they form scabs, which can cause scarring if they are scratched.
Those infected are highly contagious, although it is often thought that it is better for children to contract the illness early on in life so as to avoid the seriousness it can present if it occurs as an adult.
In most cases there is no need for specific treatment, although paracetamol may be used to relieve fever, and calamine lotion may be used to relieve itching. Those who have high risk (eg pregnant women) who have been exposed to the virus, may be given treatment with immunoglobulin which may prevent the condition from developing. In severe cases, antiviral drugs may be given.