Chickenpox is a common illness caused by a virus (germ) called varicella zoster. People often get the virus as young children if they have not been vaccinated against it. A child with chickenpox can easily give the virus to other children. Almost all children catch chickenpox but few develop any serious problems. Chickenpox today is much less common because most children are vaccinated when they are young.
Once you have had chickenpox, you will not catch it again from another person. Adults who get chickenpox may become very sick, so it's better to have chickenpox when you are a child, or prevent getting it by being vaccinated.
Children can get chickenpox at any age. After being exposed to chickenpox, your child may appear to be fine for one to three weeks before feeling sick. Children can spread the virus from one day before they show signs of illness to about five days after a skin rash appears.
The virus is spread by:
Signs of chickenpox are easy to see. Healthcare providers often can look at a child's skin and know if he or she has chickenpox. Signs of chickenpox usually happen in the following order:
Signs of chickenpox are easy to see. Healthcare providers often can look at a child's skin and know if he or she has chickenpox.
Make sure your child gets plenty of rest and fluids. Chickenpox will go away on its own in a week or two. To help your child feel less itchy, you can:
Don't give your child aspirin. Aspirin can harm children who have fevers. If you must give your child a pain killer, use acetaminophen (such as Tylenol®). If you are not sure what pain killer to use, ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist.
To prevent dehydration, give your child fluids. Cold fluids and a soft bland diet will help if he or she has mouth sores.
If your newborn baby (up to age 3 months) gets chickenpox, let your healthcare provider know right away.
Healthy people who get chickenpox do not usually have complications. However, having a severe case of chickenpox could be more dangerous for very young babies, teenagers, pregnant women and people with immunity issues, such as transplant patients. This group also includes people with cancer or HIV or people being treated with chemotherapy or steroids.
A vaccine for chickenpox is available and recommended. Ask your healthcare provider about the vaccine.
Two doses are recommended. In children under the age of 13, one dose should be given between the ages of 12 and15 months, while the other is given at the age of 4-6 years.
If you are 13 or older and never got the vaccine, you should get two doses at least 28 days apart.
When children get chickenpox, their bodies fight the illness by making a substance called antibodies. The antibodies fight the virus and help the body get well. These antibodies stay in the body throughout an adult's life. If an adult comes in contact with the virus, the antibodies are there to fight the germ.
Rarely, adults get chickenpox even though they've already had it. When the chickenpox virus in an adult becomes active again, the illness that results is called "shingles." People "catch" shingles from their own chickenpox virus. People with shingles can spread chickenpox to people who have not had chickenpox.
Shingles also looks like a rash of small bumps. It can be painful and can take longer to heal. Shingles will usually go away on its own in a week or two.
A new shingles vaccine is now available. This product is called Shingrix® (recombinant zoster vaccine. Shingrix is given as a shot in the arm. You should have two shots that are given 2-6 months apart. The vaccine is only a preventive therapy and is not a treatment for those who have already developed shingles. However, if you have had shingles, you can still get the vaccine to prevent further outbreaks.
Due to high levels of demand for GSK’s Shingrix vaccine, providers should anticipate ordering limits and intermittent shipping delays for Shingrix. It is anticipated order limits and shipping delays will continue throughout 2019. GSK increased the US supply available for 2018 and plans to make even more doses available in the US in 2019. Additionally, GSK will continue to release doses to all customer types on a consistent and predictable schedule during 2019.
This vaccine is recommended for those 50 years of age and older who are in decent health.
You should get the Shingrix vaccine even if:
Call your healthcare provider if your child:
Your child can go back to school seven days after the rash appears. It is not necessary to wait for the scabs to heal.
Call your local public health department or contact the following:
National Immunization Program
Centers for Disease Control
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/10/2018.