Chickenpox is a virus that spreads easily to others. It creates a widespread, itchy rash. The infection can also cause serious complications in some people.
Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). It spreads from person to person via:
It is contagious 1-2 days before the rash erupts. It remains contagious until all of the blisters have crusted. This takes 5 days. It is most contagious just after the rash has broken out.
A pregnant mother can transmit the virus to a fetus.
Chickenpox is more common in children under 3 years old, with peak incidence between 5-9 years old. Other factors that may increase your chance of chickenpox include:
Symptoms break out about 10-21 days after contact. They are more severe in adults than they are in children.
Initial symptoms include:
The rash appears within 1-2 days after the first symptoms. The rash:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Diagnosis is usually based on the rash and your age. Blood and lab tests to identify the virus are rarely needed.
Chickenpox is mild in most people. It will naturally run its course. In these cases, treatment focuses on relieving the symptoms.
Note: Aspirin is not recommended for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving your child aspirin.
Antibiotics cannot cure infections caused by a virus. They may be given if the rash becomes infected with bacteria.
The course, severity, and duration of the infection may be reduced by antiviral medications.
They are often used in:
Avoid contact with anyone who has chickenpox. Contact people you may have exposed the virus to. This is very important if you have not been vaccinated against the infection.
There is a catch-up schedule if your child has missed the routine injections.
Adults who have never had chickenpox or received the varicella vaccine should be vaccinated.
If you or your child has not been vaccinated, but are exposed to chickenpox, a vaccine given right away may help lessen the severity of the infection, or prevent the infection.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children
College of Family Physicians of Canada
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Vazquez M, LaRussa PS, et al. Effectiveness over time of varicella vaccine. JAMA. 2004;291:851-855.
10/14/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Macartney K, McIntryre P. Vaccines for post-exposure prophylaxis against varicella (chickenpox) in children and adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008;(3):CD001833.
Last reviewed June 2014 by Fabienne Daguilh, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.