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Chickenpox (varicella zoster) is a highly contagious viral infection that causes red, itchy blisters all over the body.

Chickenpox - What is it?

Varicella, commonly known as chickenpox, is a highly contagious infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It presents as red, itchy blisters all over the body (known as chickenpox rash). It is usually a mild disease that lasts a short time in healthy children. However it is more severe and may cause serious complications in adults and people of any age who have weakened immune systems.

After infection, the virus remains 'hidden' in the person's body, and may become active again many years later, causing shingles (herpes zoster). Shingles is more common in older adults and people with weakened immune systems, but it can occur at any age.

Chickenpox - What are the symptoms?

Symptoms generally occur 10 to 21 days (commonly around 14 to 16 days) after infection.

The main symptom of varicella is a red itchy rash that turns into small blisters which crust over and appear all over the body (known as chickenpox rash). The rash usually appears on the head first, followed by the torso then the arms and legs. Varicella infection can be mild, moderate or severe, with a severe case consisting of 200 to 500 blisters, with most occurring on the torso. Adults may have a fever and generally feel unwell 1 to 2 days before the onset of the chickenpox rash.

Complications, although rare, include bacterial infections of the skin, pneumonia (lung infection), difficulty walking and balancing, meningitis (infection around the brain and spinal cord) and encephalitis (brain infection).

This is not a full list of symptoms that can occur following chickenpox infection. Please speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about chickenpox.

Chickenpox - How is it spread?

The virus can be spread from person to person through the air, such as when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus can also be spread from direct contact with the fluid from chickenpox blisters.

An infected person can spread the virus at least 2 days before they develop the blisters and until the last blister has crusted over. Children with chickenpox should stay home until the last blister has dried.

Chickenpox - Who is at risk?

Anyone who is not vaccinated or who has not previously had chickenpox is at risk of catching the virus. This includes both children and adults.

There is a higher risk of infection and serious disease in non-immune healthcare workers, child-care workers, pregnant women, newborn babies and people with weakened immune systems.

Chickenpox infection during pregnancy can have serious consequences for the unborn baby.

Other people may be at risk of chickenpox infection. Please speak to your doctor regarding your individual circumstances.

Chickenpox - Vaccination

Chickenpox vaccination is recommended and provided free for infants as part of the National Immunisation Program (NIP). It is usually given as a single dose at 18 months of age in combination with measles, mumps, and rubella (MMRV). One dose of chickenpox vaccine is highly effective at preventing moderate to severe cases of chickenpox.

A second dose is recommended as it provides increased protection and reduces the chance of infection in children, however this is not part of the NIP.

Chickenpox vaccination is also provided free under the NIP as a catch up program for children aged 10 to 13 years who do not have a history of chickenpox or have not been vaccinated.

Vaccination with 2 doses of varicella vaccine is recommended for anyone over 14 years who has not been vaccinated or who has not previously had chickenpox.

Vaccination is also recommended for adults, especially for those at higher risk such as healthcare and childcare workers. Chickenpox vaccination however is not recommended in pregnant women. If you are planning on becoming pregnant, please discuss with your doctor whether vaccination against chickenpox is appropriate for you.

It is important to complete the recommended course of vaccinations to help protect against chickenpox infection and help maintain immunity.

Chickenpox - Treatment

There is no specific treatment for mild chickenpox. Treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms and can include bed rest, drinking plenty of fluids, reducing fever and using creams to reduce itching which can be purchased from the pharmacy.

In people who have a weakened immune system or in complicated or severe cases, antiviral medication can be used.

Please speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about chickenpox treatment

For information about chickenpox immunisation in your area, contact your State or Territory Health Department or doctor.


Some side effects may be experienced following vaccination. Please discuss any side effects or concerns with a healthcare professional.




AUS/VAC/0027/15. Date of approval: April 2015.