Is Chickenpox Contagious?

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Chickenpox Treatment

Most of the treatments for chickenpox are aimed at decreasing the symptoms, such as severe itching. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be used to decrease the fevers and aches often associated with the initial presentation of the viral infection. Children should never be given acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin) or aspirin-containing cold medications because of the risks for developing Reye's syndrome (a severe acquired metabolic disease associated with liver and brain dysfunction and death).

What is chickenpox?

Chickenpox is a disease is caused by a virus (varicella zoster virus, varicella, or VZV) that results in a blister-like rash with intense itching, tiredness, and fever. In normal individuals without immune system problems, chickenpox usually will last about five to 10 days and then resolve. Before vaccination was available, about 4 million people (mainly children) were infected each year. Once infected, the virus can remain dormant in nerve cells and after many years (in adults about 50 years old or older) the virus can be reactivated to cause the condition known as zoster (shingles).

Is chickenpox contagious?

Chickenpox is highly contagious and easily passed from person to person by direct contact (saliva, kissing) and indirect contact with blister fluid that touches objects like toys or utensils. In addition, chickenpox can be transmitted by contaminated droplets produced during coughing and sneezing. For those individuals who develop zoster (shingles), the fluid formed in blisters that arise during the disease is also contagious for chickenpox.

Chickenpox is not contagious from humans to dogs or other pets; chickenpox is a disease mainly confined to humans.

How will someone know that he or she has chickenpox?

Although chickenpox is usually thought of as a childhood disease, anyone who has not been vaccinated or infected can get the disease. Even about 25%-30% of those vaccinated may still get a mild form of the disease if exposed. About one to two days before characteristic blisters develop, individuals usually have a high fever, headache, loss of appetite, and are somewhat lethargic. The rash that develops quickly produces fluid-filled blisters that usually appear first on the chest and face and then spread to the rest of the body. This is when chickenpox is usually clinically diagnosed; lab tests are seldom used to diagnose the disease. Blisters usually last about one week before all of them form scabs.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/1/2015

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