Chickenpox

What is Chickenpox? 

Chickenpox (varicella) is a very contagious disease that causes a rash, itching, tiredness and, fever.  It is most common in children and is usually mild. When adults get it, however, they can get very sick.

Chickenpox fact sheet
Download facts about chickenpox

How is bacterial chickenpox spread?

Chickenpox spreads easily from someone who has it to others who have never had the disease or been vaccinated. It is most contagious one to two days before the rash appears. There are multiple ways to get chickenpox, such as:

  • Touching a chickenpox blister or liquid from it.
  • Through the air when someone with chickenpox coughs or sneezes.
  • From a pregnant woman with chickenpox to her baby before birth.
  • From a mother to a newborn baby after birth.

What are the symptoms of bacterial meningitis?

  • Chickenpox begins with a fever, followed in a day or two by a rash that can be very itchy.
  • The rash starts with red spots that soon turn into fluid-filled blisters.

More severe symptoms can include:

  • Skin or soft tissue bacterial infections in children, including Group A streptococcal infections.
  • Pneumonia.
  • Infection or inflammation of the brain (encephalitis, cerebellar ataxia).
  • Bleeding problems that cause redish skin spots and increase overall bleeding.
  • Blood stream infections (sepsis).
  • Dehydration.

People with serious complications from chickenpox may need to be hospitalized. In very extreme cases, chickenpox can cause death.

Who is at risk for chickenpox?

Anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated or had chickenpox can get it. People who have a higher chance of having complications or more severe symptoms include:

  • Adolescents.
  • Adults.
  • Infants.
  • People with weakened immune systems because of illness or medicines.
  • Pregnant women.

What should I do if I think I have chickenpox?

Call your doctor for instructions before going anywhere to prevent spreading chickenpox. If you or someone you know has been exposed to chickenpox, call a doctor if the person exposed:

  • Has never had chickenpox or been vaccinated for it.
  • Is pregnant.
  • Has a weakened immune system caused by disease or medication, such as:
    • People with HIV/AIDS or cancer.
    • Patients who have had transplants.
    • People on chemotherapy, immunosuppressive medications, or long-term use of steroids.

How is chickenpox treated?

If the person does not fall into any of the above categories, there are many things that can be done at home to help them feel better.

  • Put calamine lotion on rashes and blisters. Also take colloidal oatmeal baths to relieve itching.
  • Trim fingernails to help prevent skin infections caused by scratching blisters.
  • Take over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen, to relieve fever.

How can I prevent chickenpox?

  • The best way to prevent chickenpox is to get the chickenpox vaccine. Contact your primary care provider, or visit your local public health department to get the vaccine.
  • For most people, getting chickenpox once will prevent them from getting it again. However, a very small number of people may get chickenpox more than once, even if they have been previously vaccinated.
  • Persons should not return to work, school, or public activities until skin lesions have completely dried and are scabbed over.

For more information, call Denver Public Health at (303) 602-3614

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