Also known as: chicken pox, varicella-zoster virus (VZV) infection.

What is chickenpox?

Chickenpox is a highly contagious viral infection that causes itchy spots (rash) in children who haven’t had the disease or been vaccinated against it.

What causes chickenpox?

Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It is contagious and can be passed quickly from child to child by direct contact with the rash or by breathing in infected droplets (from an infected child coughing or sneezing).

What are the symptoms of chickenpox?

Symptoms appear 10-21 days after exposure to the virus. Flu-like symptoms (fever, such as sore throat, aches and pains) usually appear 1-2 days before the rash (when the child is most infectious).

The rash consists of red/pink spots/bumps which continue to develop over a few days. Bumps, blisters, crusts and scabs may all be present at the same time and cover the entire body. The rash can involve the urethra, anus and vagina and spots may be found in the throat and on the eyes. When all of the rash is dry and crusted, the child is no longer infectious and can return to school.

What are chickenpox care options?

Chickenpox is usually a mild disease however complications can occur, particularly in the newborn baby and infants of unvaccinated mothers, children whose immune system does not function normally (may be due to medications, cancer or HIV that suppresses the immune system), pregnant women, or adults.

Prevention with chickenpox (varicella) vaccine usually protects 98% of people who receive both doses.

In healthy children chickenpox does not usually require any medical treatment. If needed, treatment aims at relieving the itching symptoms - antihistaminic, compresses and lukewarm baths, topical calamine and other over-the-counter medications.

Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: July 12, 2021 02:50 PM

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Varicella-Zoster Virus

Varicella-zoster virus is the virus that causes both chickenpox and shingles. Chickenpox can occur upon initial infection with the virus, while shingles tends to occur later in life when the dormant virus that caused chickenpox reactivates. Learn more

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