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Ask the Medical Expert Archives 2000-2004

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Adult Chicken Pox
July 2000

Q. My husband is 27, and suffering with chicken pox. I mean suffering! He is lethargic and feverish. He gets up only to use the restroom. He said his stomach is for the most part upset, and his throat is painful enough to not swallow easily. His face and under his hair is so covered, that you can't see any smooth skin. He has them on the tops of his eyelids, and one in his mouth. Are these normal reactions? How can I help him be more comfortable?

A. Chicken Pox is a viral illness caused by Herpes Varicella-Zoster. In children it is usually a mild illness characterized by a blistery red rash, fever, and malaise. It usually is self-limited and resolves without treatment. However, in adults it tends to be more serious often causing a much more painful rash. It can also cause pneumonia (lung infection) with occasional respiratory failure. Therefore, in adults with chicken pox, it is reasonable to use antiviral meds that have been shown to help reduce the severity of the illness. I like Valtrex which is dosed 1 gram three times per day for 7 to 10 days.

However, in order to be effective, it needs to be started as soon as possible once the rash is noted. If not started within 72 hours, antiviral treatment does not help. Other measures such as keeping the skin as clean as possible may reduce the risk of bacterial skin infection. Domeboro soaks (Aluminum acetate) can also be soothing for the skin. Pain relievers such as Motrin or even Narcotics such as Vicodin may be needed for pain control.

Contagious precautions should be done as the virus can be spread by cough droplets or by the blister fluid containing virus. It is recommended that all children, and adults who are at risk of getting chicken pox who have never had them as a kid, receive the chicken pox vaccine, except if one is immune deficient, such as HIV patients and pregnant patients should not get this live virus vaccine. Overall, the prognosis is good and by now I hope your husband is pretty much recovered.

Ref: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/hip/abc/facts05.htm

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