Bookmark this page

View Printer Friendly PDF Printer Friendly PDF

Facts About...


What is it?

Chickenpox is an illness caused by a virus. This virus is most common in children and is usually mild. Skin infections are the most common complication and can be mild or severe. Pneumonia, infections of the brain (encephalitis) or a severe infection such as Group A Streptococcus disease (flesh-eating disease) is rare.

How is it spread?

Chickenpox is easily spread from person to person through saliva, sneezing/coughing, and contact with fluid from the lesions. When there has been contact with an infected person it takes about 2-3 weeks, commonly 14-16 days, before symptoms develop. People who have chickenpox can spread the virus 1-2 days before the onset of the rash, and for up to 5 days after the rash appears and until all the blisters have crusted, (longer if someone has immune system problems). Children can continue to go to school or daycare if they feel well enough to attend. If your child has a fever or is too sick to participate in activities he/she should stay home.

What do I look for?

  • Often begins with fever
  • The rash begins like tiny red spots, quickly becoming small fluid-filled blisters
  • The rash may be very itchy
  • Some people will have only a few blisters. Others may have as many as 500.
  • The blisters will dry and form scabs in a few days

How is it treated?

Treatment is under the direction of the doctor/health care provider.

Varicella infection in pregnancy requires prompt treatment within 24-48 hours of the onset of the rash.

Chickenpox can be serious in:

  • Adults who have never had chickenpox
  • Newborns of pregnant women infected in the first or early second trimester, and from 5 days before to 2 days after delivery
  • People with cancer
  • People who are on chronic or high dose steroid medication
  • People with immune system problems, like HIV/AIDS

How can I protect my children and myself?

  • Chickenpox is best prevented by vaccination.
  • Chickenpox is best prevented by vaccination See Facts About... Chickenpox Vaccine
  • Varicella vaccine is effective in preventing illness or decreasing the seriousness of the illness if used within 3 to 5 days after being in contact with someone who has chickenpox.
  • Varicella – Zoster Immune Globulin (VarIg) may be offered to newborns, pregnant women and persons with immune system problems and should be given within 96 hours of exposure - see your doctor/health care provider right away.
  • Keep up to date with vaccinations and speak to your doctor/ health care provider about your need for other vaccines.
  • When the rash appears, keep nails clean and short to prevent infection from scratching (mittens can be used on infants).
  • Suspect infection if the fluid in the blisters becomes cloudy or pus filled and/or if the skin around the lesions becomes red, hot or swollen.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer when hands are not visibly dirty.
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow and encourage others to do the same.
  • Wash your hands after handling nose and throat discharges (i.e., after disposal of facial tissues containing nose and throat discharges).
  • Do not share water bottles, straws, eating utensils, cigarettes, toothbrushes, toys or anything else that has been in contact with saliva, nose or throat secretions.
  • If you are ill, stay at home and isolate yourself from others.

August 8, 2014