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What You Should Know About Adult Chickenpox

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In a heartfelt video released by Universal Pictures, Angelina Jolie reveals the sad—and serious—reason she wasn't able to attend last night's premiere of Unbroken, the buzzed-about new film that she directed and produced. “I found out last night that I have chickenpox, so I will be home, itching and missing everyone,” she says. “And I just can’t believe it, because this film means so much to me.”

Predictably, Jolie looks as naturally gorgeous as ever in the video, even when covered in pink spots. But while her overall tone is relatively upbeat, the disease is no laughing matter—especially for adults, experts say. Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (in the same family as the herpes virus) and is spread through the air or by direct contact with an infected person.

For children, catching the pox leads to lots of pink calamine lotion—and endless scratching—but after you deal with it once, you should be immune to it. However, "serious complications can occur in adults, including viral infections, bacterial infections of the skin, or pneumonia," explains Amar Safdar, MD, director of transplant infectious diseases at New York University Langone Medical Center.

Besides itching all over, Jolie and other pox sufferers can expect headaches, body aches, and general tiredness. Adults with chicken pox are also at risk for shingles, which occurs when the virus reactivates—but there are various precipitating factors, including enhanced stress and advanced age, Safdar says. "Most people recover form zoster (shingles) without complications; however, in elderly patients often disabling nerve pain can last for a extended duration after recovering."

Jolie should avoid contacting other people until all skin lesions are crusted, signaling that the patient is no longer infectious, Safdar adds.

According to USA Today, Brad Pitt and their sons, Maddox, 13, and Pax, 10, and their daughter, Shiloh, 8, took her place on the red carpet last night, saying that Jolie was "scratchy," "itchy," and "scabby," but generally in "good spirits" despite missing the event.

 

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