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Written by Healthwords's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 21.02.2023 | 2 min read

Chickenpox is a virus caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It is common among children, but anyone can catch it at any age, but you can only catch it once. When adults get it, the symptoms are usually worse.

Chickenpox spots begin as red spots all over the body. These red spots fill with fluid and are called blisters or vesicles. The blisters can burst and then eventually start to scab over.

Chickenpox is often a very itchy disease that makes people quite uncomfortable. People may also feel quite poorly with fevers, poor appetite, and generalized aches and pains.

Chickenpox usually lasts a few weeks. People are infectious from a couple of days before the spots appear until after the spots have all crusted over (usually about five days later).

Are there any complications of chickenpox?

Once you’ve had the virus that causes chickenpox, it usually stays within the body and lies dormant. It can be reactivated later on in life, as shingles, when you are exposed to certain triggers like a lowered immune system, high stress, or certain treatments like chemotherapy.

In a few cases, chickenpox can cause serious complications such as an infection in the lungs or blood, an infection or inflammation in the brain, dehydration, or bleeding complications.

Is chickenpox contagious?

Chickenpox is highly contagious. It can be spread just by being in the same room as someone with chickenpox and any close contact with an infected person. It will infect those who have never had chickenpox before.

It can take up to three weeks from exposure to the virus for chickenpox spots to show. Because of this, anyone with chickenpox should avoid being around newborn babies, pregnant women, and anyone with a weakened immune system.

What can I do to help?

You should drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Try and reduce the amount of scratching to prevent scarring. This can be done by cutting nails short, wearing gloves, and using cooling creams or antihistamine medicine to soothe the discomfort. You can take acetaminophen, but it is advised not to take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) because there is a risk of a severe skin condition.

If your child is dehydrated if simple medications are not reducing their fever, there are signs that their spots may be infected (red, hot, and painful), or if you are worried about your child in any way, it's best to speak to your doctor for advice.

What about the chickenpox vaccine?

Parents sometimes host chickenpox parties to ensure children are exposed to the virus at a young age. This is because chickenpox is known to be worse in adults and carries risks if those in pregnancy catch it for the first time. The thought is to get it out of the way while children are young and recover more easily. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly recommends against this practice. Chickenpox can be serious, even for young children.

Now chickenpox vaccinations are the best option. They are given as two vaccinations, six weeks apart.

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