Chickenpox (Varicella)

  • Medical Author:
    David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP

    Dr. Perlstein received his Medical Degree from the University of Cincinnati and then completed his internship and residency in pediatrics at The New York Hospital, Cornell medical Center in New York City. After serving an additional year as Chief Pediatric Resident, he worked as a private practitioner and then was appointed Director of Ambulatory Pediatrics at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Chickenpox Vaccine for My Child?

My children were not vaccinated against chickenpox. When they were young, we were living in Europe, where the medical community does not encourage immunization against this disease. Consequently, my kids developed chickenpox at an early age, during one month in which over 30 children in our neighborhood became infected.

Chickenpox facts

  • Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus which also causes shingles.
  • Chickenpox is highly contagious and spreads by contact with someone with chickenpox.
  • Fever, malaise, and a rash (red spots, blisters, and crusted lesions) are all symptoms and signs of chickenpox.
  • Treatment for chickenpox is basically supportive.
  • Although usually self-limited, chickenpox can also cause more serious complications, including pneumonia, encephalitis, and secondary skin infections.
  • The chickenpox vaccine has resulted in a decrease in chickenpox incidence by 90% in the United States.

What is chickenpox? What causes chickenpox?

Chickenpox is a common childhood skin disease caused by a viral infection. The virus involved is called the varicella-zoster virus. Today, chickenpox is less common in the United States due to universal vaccination with the varicella virus vaccine, though it still occurs in populations that are not routinely vaccinated. Varicella-zoster virus is often categorized with the other common so-called "viral exanthems" (viral rashes) such as measles (rubeola), German measles (rubella), fifth disease (parvovirus B19), mumps virus, and roseola (human herpesvirus 6), but these viruses are unrelated except for their tendency to cause rashes.

In unimmunized populations, most people contract chickenpox by age 15, the majority between ages 5 and 9, but all ages can contract it. Chickenpox is usually more severe in adults and very young infants than children. Winter and spring are the most common times of the year for chickenpox to occur.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/18/2015
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