Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease that is caused by a herpesvirus called varicella-zoster virus (7). Chickenpox is one of the most easily transmitted of contagious diseases (5). Ninety to ninety-five percent of the people exposed to the virus will develop it within twenty-one days (5). The term chickenpox came from chickpea, which is a member of the bean family and resembles the look of the swollen pox, or from the Old English gican, meaning “to itch” (7).
Before chickenpox was classified as a disease it was confused with other similar diseases such as smallpox, measles, German measles, and scarlet fever. They all had a typical rash, and they were known as acute exanthems or “a disease characterized by an eruption or rash, from the Latin and Greek word exanthema, meaning ‘to break out,’ or, originally, ‘to bloom.’” Many people were misdiagnosed due to the similarities between these diseases, and the fact that they can occur in milder or more sever forms leading to an overlap of the most obvious symptoms. (7)
Chickenpox mostly occurs in children classifying it as a childhood disease although it can occur in adults who are not yet immune to it. This could lead to the belief of chickenpox being one of the oldest diseases. Since the chickenpox infection has two phases, one most common during childhood then a latent form that can become active again later in the persons life, doctors believe that this reactivation would start the cycle all over again. If everyone in the first cycle got the germ then became immune a whole new generation would be born by the time the virus “reawakened” to become infectious in the new generation. This causes the suspicion of chickenpox being one of the oldest diseases. (7)
Chickenpox can infect everyone and anyone throughout the world (7). More than three million Americans mostly children between the ages of two and eight are affected every year (3). The virus is known for being mild, but if an adult or a child with a weak immune system catches it it could become serious (3). “It kills between fifty and a hundred people every year.” (3) Almost 10,000 people are hospitalized each year for complications with the disease (4). The complications range from serious, which can include secondary skin infections, to fatal such as Reye syndrome (4).
This common disease is highly contagious and easily transmitted through the air by s...
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...erson who has not got chickenpox can contract it from anyone who has shingles. Shingles is most common among people over fifty, although anyone can get it. (7)
Chickenpox is a relatively mild disease. It is very common among children, and is part of almost anyone’s childhood. Chickenpox is not considered a deadly disease, which is good, although some may die from it. Chickenpox is nothing to worry about in most cases and should be considered a holiday from school or work.
1. Carpi, John. “A Pox on the Pox.” Scientific American 273: 10 (1995):
2. “Don’t Play Chicken.” Prevention 49: 9 (1997): 137
3. Kemper, M.D., M.P.H. Kathi J. The Holistic Pediatrician. New York, New
York: HarperPerennial, 1996.
4. Kump, Derma. “Childhood without Chicken Pox?” Parents 71: 4 (1996):
5. Markel, Howard, and Frank A. Oski. The Practical Pediatrician. New York,
New York: W.K. Freeman and Company, 1996.
6. Prevention Magazine Health Books, ed. Keeping Kids Healthy. Emmaus,
Pennsylvania: Rodale Press Inc., 1995
7. Silverstein, Alvin, Virginia Silverstein, and Laura Silverstein Nunn.
Chickenpox and Shingles. Springfield, New Jersey: Enslow
Publishers, Inc., 1998.
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