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Treatment for Chickenpox

When to Call the Doctor

Most cases of chickenpox do not require a visit to the doctor. There are, however, some situations when a doctor should be called upon. If a fever lasts longer than four days or rises above 102ºF, call your healthcare provider. Also, take note of areas of the rash (or any part of your body) that may have become very red, warm, and tender. These may be signs of a bacterial infection. If these areas are leaking pus (thick, discolored fluid), this can also indicate a bacterial infection.
 
Call your doctor immediately if the person with chickenpox shows the following signs:
 
  • Seems extremely ill
  • Difficult to wake up or is confused
  • Has difficulty walking
  • Has a stiff neck
  • Is vomiting repeatedly
  • Has difficulty breathing
  • Has a severe cough.
     
Your healthcare provider will advise you on how to treat these complications.
 
People with weakened immune systems from disease or medication should contact their doctor immediately if they are exposed to or develop chickenpox.
 
If you are pregnant and you develop or are exposed to chickenpox, you should immediately discuss prevention and treatment with your doctor (see Chickenpox and Pregnancy).
 

Preventive Treatment for Chickenpox

People often wonder whether chickenpox can be treated if someone has already been exposed but is not yet showing symptoms. The answer is yes. Treatment for chickenpox in this case involves giving the varicella vaccine to susceptible children within three days and possibly up to five days after exposure. The vaccine may prevent or significantly reduce symptoms in greater than 90 percent of cases if given within three days of exposure.
 
For people exposed to chickenpox but who are not able to receive the chickenpox vaccine, varicella zoster immunoglobulin (VZIG) can prevent or reduce symptoms after exposure. Because it is costly and only provides temporary protection, VZIG is only recommended as a treatment for chickenpox in people who are at high risk of developing severe symptoms. For example:
 
  • Newborns whose mothers have chickenpox five days prior to and up to two days after delivery
  • Children with leukemia or lymphoma who have not been vaccinated
  • People with cellular immunodeficiencies or other immune problems
  • People receiving drugs, including steroids, that suppress the immune system
  • Pregnant women.
     
VZIG should be administered as soon as possible, but no later than 96 hours after exposure to chickenpox. If you have had a varicella exposure and you fit into one of these groups, contact your doctor.
 
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