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You don't HAVE to get chicken pox

Dr Roopa Nishi Viswanathan | June 22, 2005

Dt all starts with a rash and, before you know it, you break into a fever and feel an ache in your throat, you get blisters and finally the most ugly looking scabs form on your skin.

The culprit is chickenpox; a disease that can be prevented if you take the vaccine.

We tackle some commonly asked questions on chickenpox and how to prevent it.

What is chickenpox and what are the symptoms?

Chickenpox is a viral infection caused by the Varicella Zoster virus, which is a type of Herpesvirus.

The symptoms: it has a characteristic itchy rash that turns into blisters that dry and become scabs in four to five days. The rash may be the first sign of illness; it is sometimes coupled with fever, sore throat, aches and general malaise.

The disease is usually more severe in adults who are more likely to develop complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis.

Can only children get chickenpox?

Adults who have not had chickenpox in their childhood are as likely to get it. While chickenpox is a mild disease for children, adults usually get more sick. The disease is also more severe in infants and people with compromised immune systems.

About 95 percent of the population gets chickenpox by adulthood.

Is it a seasonal disease?

Many cases of chickenpox occur in late winter and from March to May.

How contagious is it?

Very contagious. Chickenpox can spread directly from person to person via direct contact and through the air.

Infected children can spread the disease by coughing, sneezing, laughing and sharing toys that have mucous on it.

How is it diagnosed?

Doctors can diagnose chickenpox just by looking at the characteristic lesions at different stages of the disease. This is one disease where misdiagnosis is highly unlikely.

If I get chickenpox once, can I get it again?

No. Normal adults generally get only one attack of chickenpox. But the virus can remain dormant in the body and cause an attack of herpes zoster, or shingles as it is commonly known in adulthood. The virus may be activated when the person's immunity is lowered due to any reason.

Can I prevent chickenpox just by avoiding contact with someone who has it?

Tricky. The question is: How do you know someone has it?

Chickenpox is contagious one or two days before the rash appears and until all blisters have formed scabs. This means an infected person can pass on the virus to you even if he has no visible signs of the disease. Even so, once the rash has appeared, contact should be avoided with the infected person till all the blisters have turned into scabs.

If you are exposed to the virus, it can take up to 21 days for you to develop chickenpox and, till then, you are a potential source of infection.

Looks like getting vaccinated is better. Tell me about the vaccine.

The Chickenpox Varicella vaccine is the best way to prevent chickenpox. The vaccine usually provides complete protection from the infection in 90 percent of the population.

~ In vaccinated people who develop the disease, the severity is extremely low.

Who can take the vaccine?

~ Anyone who has not been infected with chickenpox can receive the vaccine.

~ Children above 13 years of age and adults need two doses a month apart. Currently, boosters are not required.

~ The vaccine should not be given to pregnant women or people with compromised immune systems.

~ The side effects are generally mild and include redness, soreness, swelling and, rarely, small bumps at the site of the shot.

Remember, this disease is often taken lightly but can have serious complications in an unlucky few. There is no way to predict if you will be one of them.

Get yourself vaccinated and prevent chickenpox.

Is vaccination the only preventive?

Yes. The Varicella vaccine is approved for use in healthy children who are at least a year old, and susceptible adolescents and adults ie those with no evidence of having had chickenpox in the past.  

The Varicella vaccine is highly effective in protecting against severe chickenpox.


Dr Roopa Nishi Viswanathan has an MBBS from KEM Hospital, Mumbai, with a Masters in Nutrition from the University of Texas at Austin. 

Share your comments

 What do you think about the story?

Read what others have to say:

Number of User Comments: 7

Sub: On adult Herpes Zoster.

Reply to my recent query related to adults that have had chickenpox in their early days and get striken by Herpes Zoster infection later on ...

Posted by M.R.Srinivasan

Sub: Vaccine for Herpes Zoster

Is there a vaccine or cure for Herpes Zoster? Thanks.

Posted by Krishna

Sub: treatment of Herpes Zoster

Herpes Zoster is more common in immunocompromised states such as AIDS, long term steroid therapy,and chemotherapy for cancer. It is generally treated with the Acyclovir ...

Posted by Dr. Roopa Nishi Viswanathan

Sub: After effects

Ones a person has had chicken pox , what more effects of it is he likely to have in the later years of his life ...

Posted by Shankey Bansal

Sub: lesser known facts

Good article. However, the doctor has not mentioned one of the fall-outs of chicken pox in later years. People who have had chicken-pox can get ...

Posted by Mahesh


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