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What is chickenpox?

Chickenpox is a contagious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). The disease causes an itchy rash on the stomach, back, face, and other parts of the body, tiredness, and fever. It is especially serious in babies, adults, and persons with compromised immune systems. Chickenpox can be prevented by getting the chickenpox vaccine.

What are the symptoms of chickenpox?

Anybody who has not had chickenpox or who has not received the vaccine can get chickenpox. It usually lasts anywhere between 5 and 7 days. Symptoms include:

  • rash
  • itchy, fluid-filled blisters on the face, chest, back, stomach, and other parts of the body that eventually scab (normally after 1 week)
  • fever
  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • headache

In very serious cases, symptoms can include:

  • bacterial skin infections
  • pneumonia
  • infection of the brain
  • blood stream infections
  • dehydration
  • death, in extremely rare cases

Can vaccinated persons still become infected with chickenpox?

Some people who have been vaccinated against chickenpox can still contract the disease. However, their symptoms are normally much less severe. Some vaccinated persons can still have serious symptoms, although it is rare.

Who is at risk for chickenpox?

  • Infants
  • Adolescents
  • Adults
  • Pregnant Women
  • People with compromised immune systems

How is chickenpox transmitted?

Chickenpox is very contagious and can be easily passed from an infected person to an unvaccinated person through physical contact or breathing in the virus. The chickenpox virus can also cause shingles if someone breathes in a virus from a shingles blister.

A person can spread the disease from 1-2 days before blisters show until their blisters begin to scab (about 5 to 7 days). It takes about 2 weeks after exposure for someone to develop chickenpox. Vaccinated persons can still spread the disease. Most people only have immunity after getting the chickenpox once, but in rare cases, they can get it more than once.

How can I prevent chickenpox?

The best way to prevent chickenpox is to receive the chickenpox vaccine. Children and adults should receive two doses of the vaccine. The vaccine prevents almost all cases of severe chickenpox.

Some deaths from chickenpox occur in healthy, unvaccinated children and adults. Many healthy adults that have died from the disease received it from their unvaccinated children.

How can I treat chickenpox?

At home treatments include:

  • Calamine lotion
  • Colloidal oatmeal baths
  • Trimming fingernails to prevent infection from scratching blisters

Over-the-counter treatments include:

  • Non-aspirin medications to reduce fever
  • Do not use aspirin as it can cause Reye’s syndrom in children with chickenpox

Prescribed treatments include:

  • antiviral medications for at-risk persons

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Call your healthcare provider if the infected person is considered at-risk or if they show severe symptoms of chickenpox.

For more information on chickenpox and the chickenpox vaccine, visit http://www.cdc.gov/chickenpox/index.html.