FAQ: Chickenpox (Varicella)
This document has been prepared for educational purposes by Maxine
Armstrong RN, BASc and Karen Green,
RN CIC Should you have any questions regarding individual
health concerns or health care practices, please consult your
physician or health care provider directly.
» What is Chickenpox?
Chickenpox is a very contagious disease caused by the
varicella virus. The virus usually infects children, however adults
who were not infected as children can also become infected if
exposed to the virus. Chickenpox is most common in late winter
to early spring.
» What are the Symptoms?
The symptoms include itchy rash, mild fever and other systemic
symptoms. The rash may begin as smooth, red spots then develop
into blisters by the third to fourth day. The disease is often
more severe in adolescents, adults and individuals with compromised
» How is it Transmitted?
Chickenpox is spread from person to person by direct, droplet
or airbourne contact with respiratory secretions or fluid from
the skin lesions of an infected individual. In utero infection
can occur if a susceptible mother becomes infected with chickenpox
The person with chickenpox is most contagious for 1-2 days before
and shortly after the onset of rash. Chickenpox can be contagious
for approximately 5 days after the onset of rash or until the
chickenpox lesions are crusted. The contagious period may be prolonged
in the immune compromised person.
» Who is at risk?
Anyone who has never had chickenpox is at risk of getting it
if they are exposed to someone with chickenpox or shingles (a
reactivation of the chickenpox virus). Most healthy children and
adults will be uncomfortable for a few days but infrequently develop
complications. However, immunocompromised children and adults
(eg. individuals with HIV, leukemia or other conditions that affect
their immune system), newborns who were exposed to chickenpox
in utero, and the elderly may develop pneumonia as a complication
» What are the Control
- Where possible, protect susceptible individuals
who are at high risk for complications from exposure to chickenpox.
- Varicella vaccine is available for immunization
of susceptible individuals.
- The current varicella vaccine is not recommended
for preventing the occurrence of chickenpox following exposure
to the virus. However there is some evidence to support the
fact that if the vaccine is given within three days of exposure,
it may prevent subsequent clinical illness in the contact.
- Varicella zoster immune globulin (VZIG) can be administered
to appropriate exposed candidates within 96 hours after exposure
to provide passive antibody protection following exposure.
- Children with uncomplicated chickenpox should be
excused from school or childcare until the sixth day after the
onset of the rash, or sooner if the lesions are crusted.
- Lesions can be covered
- Older children or staff members should wash their
hands if they touch potentially infectious lesions.
- In institutions or settings where chickenpox exposures
pose significant risk to susceptible individuals, the source
of infection should be investigated and susceptible contacts
identified for potential interventions.
- Health care staff or people working with high risk
populations should know their chickenpox immune status.
» What Treatments are
Treatment of uncomplicated chickenpox in a healthy child is not
recommended. Oral and intravenous antiviral therapy is available
for immuno compromised individuals to help lessen the severity
and complications of varicella infection.
This website has been made possible through an unrestricted educational grant from
Pfizer Canada Inc.