Varicella (Chicken Pox)

Chickenpox is normally a fairly mild childhood illness caused by the varicella virus. Humans are the only source of infection for this highly contagious virus. Humans are infected by person to person transmission when virus comes in contact with upper respiratory tract or eyes and by contact with lesion drainage from someone with chickenpox.

The usual symptoms include fever and a generalized itchy blister type rash that will form crusts in a few days. It can occasionally cause serious side effects in both children and adults. It can be particularly serious in pregnant women, immunocompromised persons and the elderly. Varicella tends to be more serious in adolescents and adults than in young children. Complications from this disease include dehydration, pneumonia, bacterial infection of the skin lesions, central nervous system involvement such as encephalitis and rarely can involve the kidneys along with arthritis and hepatitis. It can produce serious complications for the unborn infant if the mother has chickenpox during the early part of her pregnancy.

Treatment for uncomplicated chickenpox is usually targeted at symptom relief. There are antiviral medications that can be used in some circumstances on the advice of a physician. Avoid using aspirin in children who have chickenpox as its use has been associated with Reyes syndrome in children.

Even though this infection is usually mild, most people would still like to avoid it! The good news is that you can – we have had a vaccine to prevent chickenpox since 1995. It may be given to both children and adults who have never had the disease. This vaccine may be given to children once they reach the age of 12 months if they have not had chickenpox disease. It is also effective for older children and adults who have not had chickenpox disease. 

How do you know if you are protected from chickenpox? Normally if you have ever had chickenpox, you will have lifetime immunity or protection, and cannot get it a second time. However, it has been documented that on rare occasions a person will experience a second case of chickenpox. Because of this rare occurrence, all medical center employees are screened with a blood test that documents your protection from the disease.

If the test shows that you are susceptible to chickenpox, varicella vaccine is given. Two doses of varicella vaccine are recommended in adults who do not have laboratory evidence of prior infection. Immunity testing is not recommended routinely after vaccination, but if you are exposed to a person with chickenpox after you have been vaccinated, your immunity may be checked at the time of exposure to see if the vaccine protection has worn off.

Additional information:

Varicella (Chicken pox vaccine)

Information on Varicella from the CDC

Keywords: Varivax, Varicella, chickenpox, immunity, immunization, inoculation, shot, vaccination