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Chickenpox and Children

group of childrenChickenpox is caused by the highly contagious varicella zoster virus. It is spread by coughing and sneezing, and by direct contact with skin lesions. 

Chickenpox can be serious, especially in babies, pregnant women, and people with a weakened immune system. It can lead to severe complications, including bacterial infection of the skin from the lesions, swelling of the brain, and pneumonia. Once a person has had chickenpox, the virus can reactivate later in life to cause a painful condition called shingles, marked by a blistering rash. The best way to prevent chickenpox is to get the chickenpox vaccine.

Symptoms of Chickenpox

Most, but not all, infected individuals have a fever, which develops just before or when the rash (itchy blisters on the body) appears. A person with chickenpox is contagious one to two days before the rash appears and until all the blisters have formed scabs. Chickenpox typically develops 10 to 21 days after exposure. Once a person has had chickenpox, the virus can reactivate later in life to cause a painful condition called shingles, marked by a blistering rash.

Preventing Chickenpox

Children are routinely recommended to receive the first dose of chickenpox vaccine at age 12 through 15 months and the second dose at age 4 through 6 years. Two doses of the vaccine are approximately 98 percent effective at preventing chickenpox. In the small number of people who are vaccinated, but still get chickenpox, the vaccine lessens the severity of their illness.

Chickenpox used to be very common in the United States. In the early 1990s, an average of 4 million people got chickenpox, 10,500 to 13,000 were hospitalized, and 100 to 150 died each year.

Chickenpox vaccine became available in the United States in 1995. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chicken pox vaccination prevents more than 3.5 million cases of chickenpox, 9,000 hospitalizations, and 100 deaths in the US each year.