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Adult Chickenpox

Diagnosing and Treating Adult Chickenpox

The doctor can usually diagnosis chickenpox based on the characteristic rash combined with other chickenpox symptoms. Once a chickenpox diagnosis has been made, adult chickenpox treatment options include home self-care (see Treatment for Chickenpox) and medications.
One medication that may be prescribed is acyclovir. Acyclovir is recommended for people who are more likely to develop a serious case of chickenpox, including otherwise healthy individuals 13 years of age or older. In order for acyclovir to be effective as a chickenpox medication, it must be administered within 24 hours of the onset of the chickenpox rash.
People often wonder whether there is a treatment for adult chickenpox if someone has been exposed but is not yet showing symptoms. The answer is yes. Treatment for adult chickenpox, in this case, involves giving the varicella vaccine within 3 days and possibly up to 5 days after chickenpox exposure. The vaccine may prevent or significantly reduce chickenpox symptoms in greater that 90 percent of cases.
The doctor may recommend a blood test prior to giving the varicella vaccine. The blood test can be used to check for immunity to the herpes zoster virus. Since 70 to 90 percent of adults who don't remember having chickenpox actually have protection in their blood when tested, chickenpox blood testing before vaccination can be a good cost-saving measure.

Complications of Adult Chickenpox

Chickenpox complications are more likely to occur in adults than in children. Despite the fact that adults account for only 5 percent of chickenpox cases per year, they account for a disproportionate number of deaths (55 percent) and hospitalizations (33 percent) compared to children.
Most complications of adult chickenpox are caused by an infection from bacteria. These bacteria can cause chickenpox complications that include:
  • Skin or soft tissue infections
  • Pneumonia (usually more severe in adults, as well as children over 13 years old)
  • Bone infections (osteomyelitis)
  • Joint infections (septic arthritis)
  • Toxic shock syndrome.
Other serious adult chickenpox complications directly related to the chickenpox virus can include:
  • Infection of the brain (encephalitis)
  • Bleeding problems
  • Cerebellar ataxia.
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