What is Chickenpox?

Chickenpox, also known as varicella, is a highly infectious disease caused by the varicella zoster virus. After recovery from chickenpox, the virus stays dormant (inactive) in the nerves near the spine. Years later the virus can become active again and cause herpes zoster, which is also known as shingles.

How do you catch Chickenpox?

Chickenpox is more commonly seen in children. In countries where chickenpox is common, very few people avoid getting the disease. Adults who have grown up in tropical countries are much less likely to have had chickenpox. Although rare, some people get chickenpox more than once.

Shingles is more common in older adults and people of any age with an immune system weakness. The virus is transferred person to person through contact with infected droplets of saliva in the air from coughing, sneezing or laughing, or the liquid from the rash blisters. A person with chickenpox can pass the virus on from 1—2 days before they get the rash until after the rash blisters have dried up, which usually takes 5—7 days. It is possible for a person with shingles to pass the chickenpox virus on to someone not immune to chickenpox through contact with liquid from the rash blisters.

How serious is Chickenpox?

Chickenpox is usually less severe in healthy children than in adolescents and adults. Most healthy children will only need relief from itching and to continue drinking, however some will develop complications. Complications may be serious enough to require hospitalisation. Adolescents and adults are more likely to develop complications than children.

What are the symptoms of Chickenpox?

The early symptoms of chickenpox may include a mild fever, loss of appetite, headache and feeling tired, followed by the appearance of a red rash that becomes itchy and blisters, mostly on the trunk and face with some on the arms and legs.

Blisters can occur in the eyes, mouth/throat, vagina and urinary tract. The blisters release liquid containing the virus, then form crusts/ scabs that fall off after 1—2 weeks.

How do you prevent the infection?

Children with chickenpox are advised not to attend early childhood services, school or public places for at least one week from the appearance of the rash, until all the blisters are dry and crusted. Adults are advised not to attend work or public places for the same period of time.

Chickenpox vaccine can be given from nine months of age. The vaccine can also be given to older children and adults after exposure to chickenpox. However, a single dose after exposure in this age group may not prevent or reduce the severity of disease. Receiving the vaccine after exposure to the disease will not make the disease more severe at any age.

Vaccine is available for purchase through your family doctor.