Chickenpox (Varicella Zoster)

Chickenpox is a contagious disease. It caused by the varicella virus, a member of the herpes virus family. The disease is usually more serious in adults than in children.

Chickenpox is spread by direct person-to-person contact with an infected person. It can indirectly pass through clothing and other items that were recently soiled by discharges from an infected person's sores. The scabs themselves are not infectious.


The best way to avoid chickenpox is to stay away from an infected person.

If you have chickenpox, you should remain home until the blisters become dry and crusted. It is important to avoid exposing newborns and those with weakened immune systems.

You are contagious from two days before the rash appears until all lesions are crusted over, or until no new lesions have appeared for 24 hours.

People who get chickenpox usually become immune. The virus may return years later as shingles in older adults and children.


Children who have never had chickenpox should routinely get two doses of varicella vaccine. People 13 and older who have never had chickenpox, or who have not received the varicella vaccine, should get two doses of the varicella vaccine at least 28 days apart.

Ask your health care provider for more information about the chickenpox vaccine.


Symptoms of chickenpox appear 14 to 16 days after exposure. Initial symptoms include:

  • Sudden onset of slight fever.
  • Feeling tired and weak.
  • Itchy blister-like rash. The blisters will dry, crust over and form scabs. They may appear on the scalp, armpits, torso, eyelids and in the mouth.


Chickenpox tends to be mild in healthy children. Most health care providers will not prescribe medicines for treatment.

Severe Complications

Immunodeficient patients may have an increased risk of a severe form of shingles.

Reye's syndrome is a potentially serious complication related to chickenpox. Newborn children whose mothers are not immune may suffer severe chickenpox.

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