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What are the Most Common Chickenpox Complications?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 April 2018
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Many people progress through a bout of chickenpox with discomfort, but with few complications. This doesn’t mean chickenpox complications can’t occur and there are many of them, ranging from commonly occurring to rare. Complications often depend on age or physical health of the person with the illness. Anyone who is immunosuppressed, newborns, or older teens, and adults are likely to have more serious illness. Also, one complication occurs years after people have had this virus.

Anyone with chickenpox is potentially vulnerable to bacterial infection of one or more of the chickenpox lesions. This the most common chickenpox complication by all measures. Generally, staph or strep bacteria infects the open sores, causing symptoms like failure to heal and leakage of pus. There is the potential that infection of a sore could lead to blood infection, so oral antibiotic treatment is usually initiated. Less common is development of blood infection or sepsis, which can be extremely serious, and may result if infection is not addressed in its early stages.

One of the chickenpox complications that occurs in about one in five people may not be felt until years after the disease. After people have chickenpox, the virus continues to live in the body. At a later point it may cause shingles, which is a painful rash. Sometimes this is linked to high physical or emotional stress levels. People can reduce possibility of developing this second illness with a shingles vaccination.

It’s worth noting that people in certain groups, such as older teens and adults, are usually sicker with chickenpox than are younger kids. Worsening symptoms may mean more pox, increased stomach discomfort, and an elevated sense of “feeling sick.” These groups may also be more likely to develop pneumonia, which is usually the second most common of the chickenpox complications. More rarely, the virus can also create temporary liver problems, or it may result in encephalitis or meningitis.

These serious chickenpox complications only occasionally occur in older teens and adults but they can occur frequently in other groups with elevated risk factors. Those with suppressed immune systems and newborns are at extreme risk if they develop chickenpox. At the first sign of this illness, people who fall into these groups are usually treated with antiviral medications to reduce chances that chickenpox complications will develop. Though rare, chickenpox can cause profound illness or death, even with treatment.

Chickenpox in pregnant mothers is notably dangerous too. In early pregnancy it’s associated with increased fetal death and serious birth defects. Toward the end of pregnancy, chance of passing the virus onto the newborn is high, and thus risks the problems associated with newborn chickenpox.

It’s strongly advised people get the chickenpox vaccination. Though most people won’t have serious chickenpox complications, it’s impossible to predict the outcome.

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