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Chickenpox FAQs

Reviewed by on December 28, 2015

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Q:Chickenpox is contagious. True or false?

A:True.

Chickenpox is a viral infection that is highly contagious. Caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), chicken pox symptoms include fever, headache, and stomachache, followed by a blister-like rash that itches. In some people chickenpox can cause severe symptoms. Those at risk include babies, adults, pregnant women, and people who have weakened immune systems.

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Q:The virus that causes chickenpox is a herpes virus. True or false

A:True.

The virus that causes chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), is a type of herpes virus, and this same virus is also responsible for herpes zoster (shingles). The signature rash of chickenpox develops within 10 to 21 days following exposure to the virus. When chickenpox develops in childhood, the disease is usually mild, but it can be serious in children with compromised immune systems. Once the chickenpox symptoms go away, the virus can remain dormant in the body for decades. If it becomes reactivated it results in herpes zoster, or shingles, which is characterized by an extremely painful rash.

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Q:The chickenpox virus spreads through the air. True or false?

A:True.

Chickenpox is spread from person to person through the air, such as when a person with the virus coughs or sneezes. Virus particles can also originate in the chickenpox blisters, and can spread to someone who touches the fluid from the blisters. The virus can also be spread from someone who has shingles, since chickenpox is caused by the same virus.

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Q:Is there a chickenpox vaccine?

A:Yes.

Gone are the days when all children developed chickenpox, because there is a chickenpox vaccine. Prior to the vaccine, about 4 million people in the U.S. would develop the illness each year, resulting in over 10,000 hospitalizations and up to 150 deaths. The Centers for Disease Control recommends children get a chickenpox vaccine at 1 year old and a booster shot between 4 to 6 years of age.

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Q:Chickenpox can still develop despite vaccination. True or false?

A:True.

Despite getting a chickenpox vaccination, you may still develop the illness. The recommended 2-dose vaccine regimen is 98% effective in preventing chickenpox, and getting the chickenpox vaccine is far safer than developing the virus itself. In addition, getting vaccinated helps with something called "herd immunity," that is, you help protect those in your community who cannot get vaccinated such as pregnant women or those with compromised immune systems.

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Q:Once exposed to the infection, a person can develop chickenpox in as little as how many days?

A:10.

It takes about 10 to 21 days following exposure to the varicella-zoster virus to develop the rash typically associated with chickenpox. The period in which a person with chickenpox is contagious begins one or two days before they even develop a rash up until all the chickenpox blisters form scabs, which can take about a week.

In most cases, people who have chickenpox will develop lifetime immunity. However, the virus is one that stays in the body even after the illness has gone away. In rare cases, some people can get chickenpox more than once, particularly if their immune systems become weakened.

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Q:In addition to the classic rash, other symptoms of chickenpox include headache. True or false?

A:True.

About 1 to 2 days before the blister-like rash of chickenpox develops, early symptoms of chickenpox include fever, sore throat, loss of appetite, stomachache, fatigue, and headache.

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Q:Children with chickenpox should be seen by a doctor. True or false?

A:False.

If your child is otherwise healthy and symptoms are mild you may not need to take your child to the doctor for chickenpox. Call your doctor and describe your child's symptoms to see if the doctor thinks they warrant an office visit.

In mild cases of chickenpox, home remedies are based on relieving the symptoms and letting the virus run its course. At home care includes rest, fever-reducing medications, anti-itch medications, calamine lotion, and oatmeal baths.

Contact your doctor if your child has chickenpox and experiences the following:
- Fever higher than 102 F
- The fever lasts more than 5 days, or goes away but comes back
- Headaches are severe and do not go away even after fever is controlled
- The blisters become infected (redness or pus)
- Blisters develop close to the eyes or the eyes become red
- The itching is so intense it interferes with sleep
- Vomiting
- Ear pain or drainage from the ears
- Stiff neck or trouble walking
- The child is under 1 month old
- The child has another chronic medical condition or weakened immune system

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