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The Basics

Written by the doctors and editors at UpToDate  
What is chickenpox? — Chickenpox is an infection that causes itchy, red bumps to form on your skin. It is caused by a virus called varicella-zoster virus. This virus can linger in your body for years and later cause a painful rash called "shingles." 
Chickenpox used to be much more common than it is now. Today there is a vaccine (a shot) that helps keep people from getting infected. The vaccine is called the varicella vaccine. 
Who should get the varicella vaccine? — Almost all children should get a shot of the varicella vaccine when they are 12 to 15 months old. Then they should get a second shot when they are 4 to 6 years old. Everyone needs 2 separate shots for the vaccine to work best. People who have not gotten the second shot can still get sick with chickenpox. 
Adults who have never had chickenpox should get the vaccine, especially if they: 
●Work in healthcare or with small children 
●Are in close contact with people who have trouble fighting infections, such as people with cancer or HIV 
●Live or work in a college, prison, or other place where a lot of people live close together 
●Travel outside the US and Canada 
●Are women younger than 45 
Who should not get the varicella vaccine? — Doctors do NOT recommend the varicella vaccine for: 
●Certain children who have trouble fighting infections 
●Women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant soon 
●Children and adults who have had chickenpox 
●People in the United States who were born before 1980 (most people born before 1980 have had chickenpox even if they don't remember it) 
What are the most common side effects of the varicella vaccine? — The most common side effect is pain where the shot was given. 
What are the symptoms of chickenpox? — When you first get chickenpox, you usually: 
●Get a fever 
●Feel sick 
●Get a sore throat 
●Do not feel like eating 
About a day after these symptoms start, the chickenpox rash shows up. It starts out as groups of small, usually itchy, red bumps. These bumps usually swell with fluid and then pop. After that, the rash dries up and forms a scab. The rash lasts about a week. 
How does chickenpox spread? — If you have not had chickenpox or the varicella vaccine, you can catch chickenpox just by being around someone who is infected. 
Should I go to the doctor or nurse if I think my child or I have chickenpox? — No. Do not go to the doctor or nurse without calling first. Your doctor or nurse might be able to tell you what to do over the phone. That way you will not risk infecting other people at the doctor's office. 
Will my child or I need treatment for chickenpox? — You might need treatment, but your child might not. Most healthy young children get over chickenpox on their own without any problems. On the other hand, older children who have not had the vaccine and adults with chickenpox can sometimes have problems. For them, doctors and nurses recommend a medicine, such as valacyclovir (brand name: Valtrex) or acyclovir (brand name: Zovirax). It helps people feel better faster. 
There are also non-prescription medicines you or your child can take to help with symptoms, such as fever and itching. But you should NEVER give aspirin to a child who is younger than 18 years old. In children, aspirin can cause a dangerous condition called Reye syndrome. 
What should I do if I was near someone with chickenpox? — If you have not had chicken pox or the varicella vaccine, call your doctor right away. It might still be possible to avoid getting sick! The varicella vaccine can work even if someone has already been near the virus. For people who cannot have the vaccine, there are other options that can help keep them from getting sick. 
What if I am pregnant and think I might be getting chickenpox? — Call your doctor or nurse right away! Call also if you were near someone with chickenpox or shingles, a painful rash related to the chickenpox virus. 
Getting chickenpox while you are pregnant can cause problems for you and your baby. But there is a medicine that can help – if you get it soon enough. 
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete. 
This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jan 25, 2016. 
Topic 15375 Version 8.0 
Release: 23.7 - C24.18 
© 2016 UpToDate, Inc. All rights reserved. 

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This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from your health care provider. This is only a brief summary of general information. It does NOT include all information about conditions, illnesses, injuries, tests, procedures, treatments, therapies, discharge instructions or life-style choices that may apply to you. You must talk with your health care provider for complete information about your health and treatment options. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to accept your health care provider's advice, instructions or recommendations. Only your health care provider has the knowledge and training to provide advice that is right for you.The use of UpToDate content is governed by the UpToDate Terms of Use. ©2016 UpToDate, Inc. All rights reserved. 


© 2016 UpToDate, Inc. All rights reserved.