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Chickenpox / Varicella

Chickenpox is an infection caused by the varicella zoster virus.

About 35,000 cases of chickenpox occurred in BC each year before routine vaccination for infants started in 2005. 

Approximately one in 200 children who got the disease were hospitalized every year with 1-2 deaths occurring annually.

Information for Health Professionals

Chickenpox is a common illness that causes an itchy rash and red spots or blisters (pox) all over the body. 

It is most common in children. Most people will get chickenpox at some point in their lives if they have not had the chickenpox vaccine

Chickenpox usually isn't serious in healthy children. It can cause problems for:
  • pregnant women 
  • newborns 
  • teens 
  • adults, and 
  • people who have immune system problems that make it hard for the body to fight infection.
Signs and symptoms of chickenpox may include: 

  • A fever and feeling tired before a rash develops
  • Small, red, flat spots that usually first appear on stomach, back, face, and scalp and then spread to the rest of the body
  • The spots develop into fluid-filled blisters which are usually less than a quarter inch wide and have a red base
  • After the blisters break, the open sores will become covered by dry, brown scabs

Chickenpox is caused by a virus called varicella-zoster virus. 

Chickenpox is spread by:

  • Close physical contact with an infected person. In a household, chickenpox will spread to most of the household members who have not had the disease or received chickenpox vaccine
  • Breathing in the droplets in the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes 
  • Touching the fluid from a chickenpox blister
  • A pregnant woman with chickenpox can pass it on to her baby during pregnancy 
  • A mother with chickenpox can pass it on to her newborn

Complications may include:

  • Skin infections, including necrotizing fasciitis (flesh eating disease)
  • pneumonia and
  • central nervous system problems. 

A person is contagious from about 2 days before spots appear and until all blisters have crusted over, which is usually 5 days after the first blisters appear.
People who are contagious should stay away from child care, school, or work to avoid spreading chickenpox to others.

After you have had chickenpox, you are not likely to get it again. However, the virus stays in your body long after you get over the illness. If the virus becomes active again, it can cause a painful rash called shingles or zoster.

Your health care provider will ask you about your symptoms and will examine you. This usually gives your health care provider enough information to decide whether you have chickenpox. 

Tests to diagnose chickenpox are usually not needed.

Most healthy children and adults need only home treatment for chickenpox. Home treatment includes resting and taking medicines to reduce fever and itching. 

Teens and adults with more severe disease and people with long-term diseases or other health problems may need more treatment for chickenpox. They may need antiviral medicine.

The chickenpox vaccine is free and available for all people in B.C. who are over one year of age and have not had chickenpox disease after 12 months of age. 

Chickenpox vaccine given within 5 days of exposure to chickenpox disease can prevent or reduce the severity of chickenpox. Some individuals who cannot receive the vaccine may need an immunoglobulin (Ig) if they are in contact with a person with chickenpox.

Do not expose your child to chickenpox on purpose. Some parents expose their children to chickenpox because they think it is safer for children to have the illness when they are young. This isn't a good idea, because even young children can have serious problems from chickenpox.

SOURCE: Chickenpox / Varicella ( )
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