Click here to print this page

Planning Retirement Online


June 2013

ChickenpoxGenerally, one thinks of chickenpox as a children’s disease but adults can catch it, especially if they have a weakened immune system, and when they do, complications are more commonplace.

Occasionally, people have also been known to catch chickenpox a second time - even when they definitely know they have had it before.

Chickenpox is highly contagious and at our age it is quite possible that we will be exposed to chickenpox through grandchildren. So it makes sense to know a bit about the disease.

Chickenpox is an infection caused by a virus called varicella-zoster. It is caught through person to person contact or sometimes through infected clothing or bedding.

The incubation period, the time between when you become infected and when symptoms begin to appear, can be anything from 11 days to three weeks. The most infectious period is one or two days before the first rash appears, but a person can remain contagious until the first spots have crusted over; often around five or six days after the first appearance of the chickenpox rash.

The early symptoms are often a mild headache and fever together with a loss of appetite, some coughing or sneezing and a general feeling of not being very well. The first clear symptom of chickenpox though is when the rash starts to appear. This usually starts with a small flat rash with red spots, often on the face and scalp first before spreading to the chest, arms and legs. Some people get spots inside their mouths and noses as well. The spots become filled with fluid and are usually very itchy. They can vary quite a lot in size.

These spots can go on to develop into blisters containing pus. The blisters will usually crust over within a few days to form scabs and then will finally disappear around two weeks later.

Chickenpox doesn’t necessarily scar and often sufferers recover with no long term effects at all; but if the spots become infected, perhaps from being opened up by scratching, then a scar can occur.

Generally chickenpox is not too severe and there are no serious problems. However, it can be more dangerous for adults, especially adults who may have a weakened immune system from taking other medication or from other existing problems.

In these cases, the most frequent complication is pneumonia, or inflammation of the lung tissue. Chickenpox occasionally can cause encephalitis (inflammation in the brain) or ataxia - which causes unsteadiness in walking and a loss of co-ordination.

Very rarely, other serious complications can occur, such as myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and glomerulonephritis (kidney inflammation).

Generally, even with complications, adults who catch chickenpox recover without long term effects. It can redevelop later as shingles - see the Laterlife Health story on Shingles in 2009 . Generally there is no specific treatment although medication can be prescribed to relieve the symptoms including the irritation.

Occasionally your doctor may prescribe an antiviral drug such as acyclovir. This does not kill the virus, but it helps to stop the virus from multiplying. However, it needs to be started with 24 hours of the first rash developing, after this time it won’t have much effect.

The main thing for adults is to be aware that if they have been exposed to someone with chickenpox, it is not just a childhood disease and there could be a small risk of catching it themselves.


Back to Health Section



    Keep in touch with everything happening in Laterlife Today!

    Subscribe to our free monthly email newsletters for the latest articles, offers and events. You can unsubscribe at any time should you want to.



Bookmark This Share on Facebook Receive more like this

Tell us your hospital experience

Tell us your health experiences

Want to comment on this article or ask other laterlife visitors a question?

Then visit the comment section of the Later Lifestyle Network, click on the 'Discussion Tab' (you can't see this until you are logged in) and create a new topic or add your views to an existing one. 

feeling Good

Feeling Good

The above article is part of the features section of called laterlife interest. laterlife interest contains a variety of articles of interest for visitors to written by a number of experienced and new journalists.

It includes both one off articles and also associated regular columns of a more specialist nature such as Healthwise, Gardener's Diary, our regular IT question and answer section called YoucandoIT and there's also 'It could be you' by Maggi Stamp laterlife's counsellor on human relationships. 

Looking to the future

Looking to the future

Tell us about what you would like to see here on in the future or any changes you would like to see. Just email

Latest articles

To view the latest articles click on laterlife interest index. To search for articles about a certain topic, use the site search feature at the top right of the page.
Back to Laterlife Today

Visit our Pre-retirement Courses section here on laterlife or our dedicated Retirement Courses site


Advertise on

LaterLife Travel Insurance in Association with Avanti