Chickenpox (varicella) is a contagious infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). Chickenpox is typically mild and lasts in healthy children for a short time; however it can last longer and become more serious in adults if they become infected. Once you have had chickenpox, you usually develop antibodies to the infection and become immune to catching it again. However, the virus that causes chickenpox, the varicella virus, remains dormant (inactive) in your body's nerve tissues and can return later in life as an illness called shingles.1
Unvaccinated children and adults, or those who have not previously suffered from chickenpox, are at risk of catching the virus. Symptoms begin with a fever and runny nose, leading to a rash that turns to small open blisters which scab. With the exception of rare cases, most chicken pox sufferers recover without complications.2
Chickenpox is spread by coughing and direct contact with people who are infected. People are contagious from one or two days before, and up to five days after, the rash appears.2
Chickenpox is vaccine preventable and the vaccine is recommended as part of the routine childhood immunisation schedule. The vaccine shouldn’t be given to people with immune deficiency diseases. In Australia, children should be immunised at 18 months of age. Currently, Australia also has an immunisation catch up program for children aged 10 to 15 who have not yet received the vaccine.3
In most instances, chicken pox is diagnosed based on the symptoms and the appearance of a rash. On some occasions, diagnosis is confirmed by testing samples taken from the rash or the blood. In children, the condition does not normally require specific treatment, but there are pharmacy remedies which can alleviate symptoms. This includes treatments such as paracetamol to relieve fever and calamine lotion and cooling gels to ease itching. In most children, the blisters crust up and fall off naturally within one to two weeks.2
Medical advice is recommended for the onset of chicken pox-like symptoms. For further information regarding chicken pox and immunisation, please speak with your health care professional.