The varicella-zoster virus causes chickenpox, a highly contagious disease. It can result in an itchy, searing rash. The symptoms appear first on the chest, back, and face, then spread all through the body, causing between 250 and 500 itchy blisters. Varicella can be fatal, particularly in babies, adolescents, adults, pregnant women, and people whose bodies have a weakened immune system. The best way to prevent chickenpox is to get vaccinated. The classic symptom of chickenpox is a rash that turns into itchy, fluid-filled blisters that eventually turn into scabs. The rash may first show up on the chest, back, and face, and then spread over the entire body, including inside the mouth, eyelids, or genital area. It usually takes about one week for all of the blisters to become scabs.
Other typical symptoms that may begin to appear one to two days before rash include:
- loss of appetite
Children usually miss 5 to 6 days of school or childcare due to chickenpox.
Serious complications from chickenpox include:
- Bacterial infections of the skin and soft tissues in children
- Infection of the lungs (pneumonia)
- Infection or swelling of the brain (encephalitis, cerebellar ataxia)
- Bleeding problems (hemorrhagic complications)
- Bloodstream infections
Some people with serious complications from chickenpox can become so sick that they need to be hospitalized. Chickenpox can also cause death.
The best way to prevent chickenpox is to get vaccinated. If they have never had chickenpox or have never been vaccinated, everyone, including children, adolescents, and adults, should receive two doses of chickenpox vaccine. The chickenpox vaccine is extremely safe and effective in preventing the disease. The vaccine prevents chickenpox in the vast majority of people. If a vaccinated person gets chickenpox, the symptoms are usually milder, with fewer or no blisters (only red spots) and a low or no fever. Almost all cases of severe illness are prevented by the chickenpox vaccine. Since the beginning of the varicella vaccination program in the United States, there has been more than 90% reduction in chickenpox cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.
Who Needs Chickenpox Vaccine
Children under 13 years old should get two doses
- First dose at age 12 through 15 months
- Second dose at age 4 through 6 years
The second dose may be given at an earlier age if it is given at least 3 months after the first dose. People 13 years of age and older who have never had chickenpox or received chickenpox vaccine should get two doses, at least 28 days apart. Chickenpox vaccination is especially important for:
- Healthcare professionals
- People who has weakened immune system
- Childcare workers
- Residents and staff in nursing homes and other residential settings
- College students
- Inmates and staff of correctional institutions
- Military personnel
- Non-pregnant women of child-bearing age
- Adolescents and adults living with children
- International travelers