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Chickenpox is a common childhood disease. It causes an itchy, blistering rash and is easily spread to others.
Until the varicella vaccine was licensed in 1995, chickenpox infection was very common. Almost everyone had been infected as a child. Now a vaccine is available to prevent chickenpox. Two doses of the vaccine are recommended for children, teens, and nonimmune adults.
The disease is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It is easily passed from person-to-person by direct contact or through the air by coughing or sneezing.
Any child or adult who has never had chickenpox or been vaccinated against it is at risk for getting the disease.
Chickenpox is passed from person-to-person by direct contact or through the air by coughing and sneezing. It can also be spread by being exposed to the fluid from the blistering rash. Once exposed, symptoms usually appear within a couple of weeks. But it may take as few as 10 and as many as 21 days for the chickenpox to develop.
Chickenpox is contagious for 1 to 2 days before the rash starts and until the blisters have all dried and become scabs. The blisters usually dry and become scabs within 5 to 7 days of the onset of the rash. Children should stay home and away from other children until all of the blisters have scabbed over. It is important that people who are infected avoid those with weak immune systems, such as those with organ transplants, HIV, or those getting cancer treatment.
Family members who have never had chickenpox have a high chance of becoming infected when another family member in the house is infected. The illness is often more severe in adults compared to children.
Symptoms are usually mild in children. But symptoms may be life-threatening to adults and people of any age with weak immune systems. However, each person may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
The initial symptoms of chickenpox may resemble other infections. Once the skin rash and blisters happen, it is usually obvious to a healthcare provider that it is chickenpox. If a person who has been vaccinated against the disease is exposed, he or she may get a milder illness with less severe rash and mild or no fever. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
The rash of chickenpox is unique. Diagnosis can usually be made on the appearance of the rash and a history of exposure.
Specific treatment for chickenpox will be determined by your healthcare provider based on:
Treatment for chickenpox may include:
Children should not scratch the blisters because it could lead to secondary bacterial infections. Keep fingernails short to decrease the likelihood of scratching.
Complications can happen from chickenpox. They are more common in adults and people with weak immune systems. Complications may include:
If your symptoms get worse or you have new symptoms, call your healthcare provider. You should tell your provider as quickly as possible if you get these symptoms:
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