A new variant of the chickenpox-causing virus Varicella-Zoster Virus (VZV) known as Clade 9 has been detected in India. The new variant has been detected by the Indian Council of Medical Research-National Institute of Virology (ICMR-NIV) scientists, Pune. In India so far, the variants in circulation are Clade 1 and Clade 5 and this is the first incident of Clade 9 being detected here. However, the location where the first case of the new variant was found has not been disclosed.
New chickenpox variant
The new variant was picked up coincidentally by the team while they were conducting surveillance of the suspected cases of Mpox (earlier known as Monkeypox) in India. The study stated, “This is the first study reporting the circulations of VZV clade 9 in India, whereas clade 9 is the most common strain in circulation in countries such as Germany, UK, and USA.”
What causes chickenpox?
Varicella-Zoster Virus is one of the nine herpes viruses that is known to cause chickenpox infection in children and adolescents and shingles or herpes zoster in adults. VZV transmission occurs through droplets, aerosols, or direct contact with respiratory secretions.
According to the World Health Organization, the virus causes a mild disorder in childhood and tends to be severe in adulthood. It may be fatal, especially in neonates and in immunocompromised persons.
Is clade 9 more severe as a variant?
The study pointed out that, “despite infection with the VZV clade 9 strain, there were no significant indications of heightened disease severity in the patients.”
The new variant, Clade 9 has not caused any severe disease so far and there’s no need to be worried, says Dr Nikhil Kulkarni, Consultant-Internal Medicine, S L Raheja Hospital, Mahim – a Fortis Associate, Mumbai cautioning that it’s a must to take precautionary measures and to follow the safety protocols as Chickenpox is highly contagious.
Symptoms of new chickenpox variant
“Chickenpox is a respiratory virus that spreads through aerosols. Once a person is exposed to the virus, it takes about 10-12 days for the Chickenpox symptoms to appear. It starts as any other viral infection with fever, malaise, headache, body pain, and loss of appetite which lasts for two to three days and is often treated as a viral infection. In the second stage, irrespective of the variant, the typical rash with the itch and blisters are seen including for the variant Clade 9,” said Dr Kulkarni.
The blisters are then replaced by brownish scabs that eventually dry and fall off, he said, adding that the entire process of the illness lasts for two weeks.
The preventive measures remain the same for all the chickenpox variants, says Dr Kulkarni. “In India unless we check for the variant by presenting the samples to NIV, we wouldn’t know the variant, and hence irrespective of the variant, if a person represents with any symptom of illness, they must isolate themselves to prevent the spread of infection,” he said.
Dr Pooja Pillai, Consultant Internal Medicine, Sparsh Hospital, Bangalore, says that the incubation period for chickenpox is between 10 – 21 days when they must maintain good hygiene and self-isolation. “Though the person starts to show signs after 10 days, the infection starts to transmit one or two days before the onset of rashes and it can easily be passed on to another person until the scabs fall off,” she said, stressing on mandatory isolation until the scabs fall off.
Dr Kulkarni suggests simple measures like hand hygiene, keeping separate utensils, avoiding sharing personal items such as towels and soaps, covering mouth while sneezing and coughing, and using masks and sanitizer as crucial in managing and controlling the disease.
Chickenpox treatment is majorly symptomatic, says Dr Pillai. “When the infected person is in the phase of fever and body pain, taking anti-inflammatory drugs and over the counter medicines like paracetamol helps, ” says Dr Pillai. “Taking antihistamines and cool baths can relieve the itching and discomfort from the rashes. Drinking lots of fluids, staying hydrated, taking a good rest and a good diet helps in recovery,” she added.
Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease caused by the Varicella-Zoster Virus. In India, so far, Clade 1 and Clade 5 VZV variants were seen and for the first time, the new variant Clade 9 was detected during the surveillance of Mpox. Maintaining good hygiene, following precautionary measures are crucial to control and stop the spread of the disease.