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HealthInfo Canterbury


Koroputa hei

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

You can catch chickenpox at any age but it's most common in tamariki (children) under 10. For most tamariki children , chickenpox is a mild disease, but some can get seriously sick. It's also usually more severe for adults, pregnant women and their unborn babies, and people with a weakened immune system.

Chickenpox spreads very easily from person to person. It's usually spread through the air by coughs and sneezes. You can also catch it by touching something (like a door handle) that has the virus on it.

You won't notice any symptoms of chickenpox until 10 to 21 days after you catch the virus. The virus never leaves your body, and stays resting (dormant) in your nerves. It can come back later in life as shingles.

Symptoms of chickenpox

Chickenpox usually starts with cold-like symptoms followed by a high temperature and itchy skin.

Flat or slightly raised red spots occur a day or two after the first symptoms. The spots are mostly on the head and chest to start with but they may spread to the arms and legs. The spots may fill with fluid, forming small blisters. The blisters dry out and form scabs after about seven days.

Self-care for chickenpox

The treatment for chickenpox aims to reduce the symptoms. It includes rest, soothing creams for the itchiness, and paracetamol for the pain.

Getting help with chickenpox

See your GP if:

Your GP may recommend antiviral drugs such as valaciclovir and aciclovir, or antibiotics if you also have a bacterial infection called cellulitis.

Preventing chickenpox

The chicken pox vaccine can protect tamariki and adults against chickenpox. The vaccine may also prevent or reduce the symptoms of chickenpox if you get it within three to five days of being exposed to someone with the disease.

The vaccine is free for tamariki:

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed May 2022.


Page reference: 49693

Review key: HICHI-49693