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Chickenpox (Varicella)
What is it?
Chickenpox (varicella) is a common childhood infection. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which infects
people. Children who had chickenpox before two years of age may develop a painful disease called shingles
while they are still young. Older adults who had chickenpox as a child may develop shingles later in life.
Shingles (zoster) looks like chickenpox and is caused by the same virus but is found on only one part of the
body. It is possible to catch chickenpox from someone with shingles but an individual cannot get shingles
from someone with chickenpox.
What are the symptoms?
Chickenpox usually begins with a fever, and mild cold like symptoms, followed in a day or two by a rash that
can be very itchy. The rash starts with red spots that soon turn into fluid-filled blisters. Some people have
only a few spots while others have hundreds. The blisters dry up and form scabs in four to five days.
Sometimes the spots do not appear all at once. They may appear in bunches, days apart, so it can take a
couple of weeks for all the blisters to dry up.
Who is at risk?
It is most common in children and is usually mild, although some children develop complications, like
convulsions, pneumonia, or inflammation of the brain, and require hospitalization. When adults get it,
however, they can be very sick. Chickenpox can be very dangerous for people with immune system problems,
newborns, seniors, and pregnant women.
When do the symptoms start?
The symptoms usually start two to three weeks after coming into contact with the virus.
When is it contagious?
Chickenpox is infectious up to five days before to five days after the rash first appears or until all the spots
have crusted.
How does it spread?
It spreads very quickly, even before a person knows that they are ill. It spreads through the air or through
direct contact with the fluid in a chickenpox blister. Women with chickenpox can pass it to their baby before or
after their baby is born.
How is it treated?
Some antiviral drugs are moderately effective. People with an immune system disorder or pregnant women,
who come into contact with someone with chickenpox, should call their physician, as they may be able to
receive a special type of immune globulin to help prevent the infection. It is best to try to prevent chickenpox
through vaccination. A vaccine against chickenpox is now available in Canada as part of routine childhood
How can the spread of Chickenpox be reduced?
Try to stay away from individuals infected with chickenpox.
Do not touch the fluid in a chickenpox blister.
What should I do if I get sick with Chickenpox?
• Keep a child with chickenpox out of a childcare facility or school if the illness is severe enough that the
child cannot participate in regular activities or if the child has a fever.
• For mild cases, exclusion is not necessary.
• If a child gets chickenpox, do not give aspirin [acetylsalicylic acid, (ASA)] or any products that contain
aspirin. Taking aspirin increases the risk of getting Reye’s syndrome, a severe illness that can cause
damage to the liver and brain.
• To control fever it is safe to use acetaminophen.
• Drink lots of fluids and get plenty of rest.
• Pregnant women, people with immune disorders, and anyone with severe illness should call their
health care provider.
O: 2007-06 R: 2012-06