Health > Chickenpox in Adults: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment
1st Mar 2021

Chickenpox in Adults: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Chickenpox: An Overview

Chickenpox, or Varicella, is when itchy red spots cover the body. It’s caused by a virus. While kids often get it, adults can too. The main sign is itchy spots. They show up 7 to 21 days after catching the virus. Other symptoms may appear then too. Most people get chickenpox once, but a few get it twice. It’s rare. Staying healthy is important to avoid chickenpox. Even though older people usually don’t get it, they should still be careful. There are many home care services for older people in case of health problems. In this blog, we will do a deep dive into understanding chickenpox.

Symptoms of Chickenpox

Other than the main signs and symptom of chickenpox like the itchy rashes; the non-rash symptom of the infection include –

  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever

After one or two days of experiencing these non-rash early symptoms of chickenpox, the classic itchy rash begins to develop, which goes through three phases. The phases include –

  • The infected person will develop red or pink bumps all over the body.
  • These bumps turn into blisters that are filled with fluids, which leaks.
  • The bumps then become crusty, after which it scabs over and finally, begins to heal.
  • These bumps on the body do not occur in the same phase at the same time.
  • In addition to this, new bumps will also appear in the body all through the infection.
  • The rashes, just before they scab out, are very itchy.

The infected person remains contagious, unless and until all the blisters that appeared on the body during the varicella infection scab out. Usually, it takes almost one to two weeks for the blisters to completely disappear.

Chickenpox in the Elderly

The varicella infection is basically known as a childhood disease. However, chickenpox in adults is a common thing. Those who have had the chickenpox infection before are somewhat more immune to it than those who have not yet experienced it. Although, chickenpox in older adults is not too possible, those who have not had chickenpox before can be receptive to the same.

Chickenpox Symptoms in the Elderly

The symptoms of chickenpox in adults are similar to those of the ones that occur in children, however, they can be a bit more severe. Some of the symptoms that can be seen in adults include –

  • Body aches and headache
  • Fever and fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Other flu-like symptoms like cough and cold, nose congestion, and so on

These symptoms of chickenpox can be seen a day or two before the rash begins to appear. Once the itchy rashes appear, red spots can be seen on the face and chest that gradually spreads over the entire body. The spots take the form of blisters that are filled with fluid. The blisters on the body will weep and then become sore. After which, they form crusts, which eventually scabs out and the healing process starts. It is estimated that a total of 250 to 500 blisters can form on the body of the infected person.

Causes of Chickenpox in the Elderly

The Varicella-Zoster Virus (VZV) is what causes chickenpox in adults and children, which is why it is also known as the varicella infection. It is a contagious infection and can spread from person to person through direct or indirect contact. It is said that the virus is extremely contagious for people around you one or two days before the blisters or bumps (symptoms of chickenpox) appear on the body and remains so till they have scabbed out. The ways in which the virus can spread include –

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Saliva
  • Contact with the fluid present in the blisters

If you experience the starting symptoms of chickenpox like rashes in your body along with fever or other flu-like symptoms, then immediately visit the doctor.

Risks of Chickenpox for the Elderly

For the elderly and senior citizens, who have not experienced chickenpox as a child or have not taken the shot of the vaccine, the chances of getting the varicella infection are present. Adding to this, the risk factors because of which the elderly or adults can be infected are –

  • Going to places that have more children
  • Living with children who are still not vaccinated
  • Spending time with an infected person in the same room
  • Coming in contact with the rash of the infected person
  • Using clothes, bed, or any other things that were touched or used by an infected person

Complications of Chickenpox in the Elderly

Chickenpox is a mild but uncomfortable condition that may or may not lead to complications or serious health issues. The following are some of the complications that you may experience in case of getting chickenpox in old age –

  • Sepsis, which is a bacterial infection of the bloodstream
  • Bacterial infections in the skin, soft tissues, and/or the bones
  • Encephalitis, which is basically an inflammation of the brain cells
  • Bleeding problems
  • Dehydration and pneumonia
  • Reye’s syndrome – if the infected person takes medicines that are not advisable to be consumed while being infected.

Though the infection is not severe, there are chances of experiencing complications. Elder people are at higher risk of experiencing complications if they have underlying health conditions or the following –

  • If they are on medicines that suppress the immune system like chemotherapy, etc.
  • If their immune system is weakened because of another disease like HIV, etc.
  • If the elderly person is on steroid medications for underlying health issues like rheumatoid arthritis.
  • If they have experienced an organ or bone marrow transplant in the past.

Chickenpox Treatment for the Elderly

The treatment of chickenpox in adults is very simple. Most of the people who are diagnosed with varicella infection are advised to manage the symptoms and wait for the virus to pass through the system. Those infected need to stay at home and not go out. In addition to this, the doctor, depending upon the severity of the infection and keeping underlying health conditions in mind (if any), will prescribe chickenpox medicines for adults and topical ointments, which will help in giving relief to the infected person from the itching sensation. Other ways one can soothe the itching include –

  • Lukewarm baths
  • Wearing light and soft clothes
  • Applying unscented lotion, only after discussing with the doctor.

The doctor may also prescribe a few anti-viral drugs in case of any complications or for those elderly chickenpox patients who are at risk of experiencing complications. The anti-viral drug prescribed will not cure the chickenpox infection but will help in reducing the effect of the symptoms, leading to faster healing.

Chickenpox Vaccine for the Elderly

There is a two-dose chickenpox vaccine for adults, which helps in preventing the disease. Those elderly and senior citizens who have not experienced chickenpox will get the doses of the vaccine about one month apart from getting the first dose. However, your doctor may advise against getting vaccinated if you have or experienced the following –

  • You have an allergy to any of the ingredients that are used to prepare the vaccine, like neomycin, gelatin, etc.
  • You have had chemotherapy or radiation for treating cancer.
  • You are affected by moderate or severe health issues.
  • You have been prescribed steroid drugs.
  • You are affected by a disease that weakens your immune system.

In case, the adult has recently received a blood transfusion, then also the doctor advises to not get vaccinated.

Although the chances of elderly or senior citizens getting chickenpox is a rare case scenario, it is always a good idea to take precautions to be safe. And to make the elderly and senior citizens feel secure and safe in case of any health emergencies, we, at Emoha, ensure that they are given the best of facilities and elder support services. For us, it is always #EldersFirst and our team works tirelessly to uphold this belief.