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HealthInfo Canterbury

Chickenpox

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

You can catch chickenpox at any age but it's most common in children under 10.

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.

People get chickenpox symptoms 10 to 21 days after catching the virus. They usually start 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.

The chickenpox virus never leaves your body and remains dormant (resting) in your nerves where it can re-emerge later in life as shingles.

How can I avoid getting chickenpox?

The Varilrix vaccine is used to protect children 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.

From 1 July 2017, children aged 15 months receive this vaccine as part of the National Immunisation Schedule. Children aged 11 will also receive it if they haven’t had chickenpox or a previous chickenpox vaccine.

What is the treatment for chickenpox?

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

When should I see a doctor with chickenpox?

If you're over 15, you should go to see your GP. This is especially important if:

You should also take someone younger than 15 to see their GP if they're very unwell.

Your GP may recommend antiviral drugs such as valaciclovir and aciclovir.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed May 2018. Last updated November 2018.

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Page reference: 49693

Review key: HICHI-49693