Varicella (Chicken Pox)

What it is: This common childhood illness is brought on by the varicella-zoster virus. The disease is distinguishable by the hundreds of itchy, fluid-filled blisters that cover an infected person’s body. Most cases occur before a child’s 10th birthday, with cases in older children and adults tending to be more severe.

How it spreads: Chickenpox can easily spread through contact with the blister fluid or an infected person’s respiratory droplets. The virus can also pass through the air, making the disease highly contagious.

What it causes: As the main symptom, the red itchy blisters that appear with chickenpox occur over the face, torso or scalp and then spread to the rest of the body. The blisters may leave scars if scratched and exposed to infection.
Other symptoms are:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Upset stomach
  • Loss of appetite

The disease can also lead to severe skin infection, scars, pneumonia, brain damage or death.  A person who has had chickenpox can get a painful rash called shingles years later.  Before the vaccine, about 11,000 people were hospitalized each year, and 100 deaths per year were attributed to chickenpox.

What to do:  Anyone who is not fully vaccinated and has never had the chicken pox should receive one or two doses of the vaccine.  The timing of these doses depends upon the person’s age.  The routine schedule for children is the first dose will be given at age 12-15 months and the second dose is given at age four to six years.