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Chickenpox in Adults

Tue, 02/21/2017 - 05:04 / By Andrew Rynne

Chickenpox in Adults

Chickenpox in adults is not common but does occur. Chickenpox is primarily a childhood viral infection which the child usually shakes off quite easily. In fact, in a busy household this infection may be missed altogether and be put down to a cold. But if you haven’t had chickenpox as a child then you will not have developed antibodies to this virus and you are liable to get chickenpox, if exposed to it, as an adult.

Not so in adults however. Chickenpox in adults is a horse of a different color. It is quite debilitating, lasts from 5 to 7 days, and you will certainly know that you have it. The characteristic rash appears within 2 days of the infection starting. Before the rash starts you will feel flu-like with headache and fever. You will be bed bound and have little or no energy. All you’ll want to do is sleep and drink.


Developing chickenpox as an adult can be much more serious than the childhood version of this condition. Getting a quick diagnosis can help you to manage your illness!

When the rash starts to appear the diagnosis should be easy because the rash is like no other. It appears as red spots, some with water blisters on top of them, some just emerging and some scabbed over and starting to recede. That is the feature of chickenpox rash that distinguishes it from all other rashes – the spots are each at a different phase of development. In smallpox for example this phenomenon does not occur. Also the rash of chickenpox is extremely itchy.

How to Manage Chickenpox in Adults

Chickenpox is a viral illness caused by the varicella zoster virus. There are anti-viral medicines that you can take but to be effective they need to be started before the rash appears and even then they are not always that useful.

Therefore you manage chickenpox in adults just as you would any other viral or flu-like illness. Bed rest is important but in any case the patient will be too weak to be anywhere else but in bed. Paracetamol or aspirin may be useful for controlling the fever but remember a raised temperature is part of the body’s immune response designed to force the virus out.

medical pain Connection Between Chickenpox and Shingles

Shingles or herpes zoster is caused by the very same virus that causes chickenpox – the varicella zoster virus. What happens is this. You get chickenpox, usually as a child but occasionally, as we have seen, as an adult. The illness lasts for about a week and then goes away. But it does not go away completely. Some of the virus remains and lies dormant within your central nervous system usually in nerves around your trunk, head, face and neck but anywhere in the body really. These dormant viruses usually do not cause any trouble but occasionally they can cause big trouble by breaking out as an attack of shingles.

This normally happens in older people whose defences may be weak or down. They may for example be suffering from anxiety or depression or they may have had some cancer treatment or other illness.

Shingles is an extremely painful rash affecting as it does the pathway of a sensory nerve. Shingles needs to be treated aggressively with anti-viral medicine and this needs to be given before the rash appears. Before the rash appears there will be an area of exceptional sensitivity that feels like a bad nettle sting or electric shock. Anticipating shingles before the rash appears is an art and a very useful one.


Developing chickenpox as an adult can be much more serious than the childhood version of this condition. Getting a quick diagnosis can help you to manage your illness!
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