Chickenpox (Varicella)


What is chickenpox (varicella)?

Chickenpox is an infection caused by the varicella‐zoster virus. It is most common in children. While most children recover from their illness, complications can occur, including:

  • Scarring
  • Cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection 
  • Necrotizing facsiitis, or “flesh eating disease,” caused by an infection that can enter through the chickenpox lesions


  • Mild fever
  • A rash that starts with red spots then turns into fluid‐filled vesicles (blisters). In a few days, crusts form over the blisters
  • Symptoms of the disease are more severe in people over 12 years old
  • The chickenpox rash usually appears 14‐16 days after exposure to the virus

How it is spread

Chickenpox is highly contagious. The incubation period, or the time it takes for symptoms to show, is between 10 and 21 days, usually about two weeks.

Chickenpox is spread from person to person:

  • Through droplets or airborne particles from coughing or sneezing; and
  • By touching an infected person or touching a contaminated item and then touching your own eyes, nose or mouth.

When is it contagious?

Chickenpox is usually contagious 1‐2 days, and possibly up to 5 days, before the onset of the rash. It remains contagious until 5 days after the onset of the rash, or until all the lesions have crusted over, whichever comes first.


Once you have acquired chickenpox, immunity to the disease is life‐long, meaning you are unlikely to have it again.
Speak to your doctor if you cannot recall a previous infection. A blood test can determine if you have antibodies that provide protection from getting chickenpox.

Sometimes, medication can be given to prevent severe infection.


  • Acetaminophen may be used for fever.
  • Over‐the‐counter medicated creams and ointments can be applied to the affected skin to reduce itchiness.
  • Antihistamine liquids and pills can also ease severe itching.
  • Varicella‐Zoster Immune Globulin (VarIg) may be effective in preventing a severe infection if taken within 96 hours after exposure.

Please speak with your doctor about treatment options, as not all treatments are suitable for children


Vaccination prior to exposure is the best defense against infection. Two doses should be given. The first dose is given at 15 months and the second with the 4-6 year booster. Unimmunized children over 1 year of age, born January 1, 2000 or later are entitled to free vaccine.


Shingles is a painful skin rash caused when the varicella‐zoster virus becomes active again, many years after you have had chickenpox. You CANNOT get shingles from someone who has chickenpox or shingles.
However, you CAN get chickenpox if you touch the fluid from the blisters of someone with shingles, if you have never had chickenpox before.

Chickenpox and pregnancy

Women who have never had chickenpox can develop severe illness if they get chickenpox while pregnant.
Chickenpox can affect the developing baby if the mother becomes infected in the first half of her pregnancy. A newborn baby can develop severe chickenpox if the mother has the infection around the time of delivery.


    Call Health Matters at Oxford County Public Health: 519 539‐9800 or toll‐free 1 800 755‐0394