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Chickenpox

The Chickenpox Vaccine

Since 1995, a chickenpox vaccine has been available for children 12 months of age and older. Adolescents and adults who have never had chickenpox can also get the vaccine. The vaccine has proven very effective in preventing severe chickenpox. The CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Physicians recommend that all children be vaccinated with the chickenpox vaccine between 12 and 18 months of age.

Many states now require vaccination prior to entry into preschool or public schools.

What is chickenpox?

Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease, usually associated with childhood. By adulthood, more than 95 percent of Americans have had chickenpox. About four million people get chickenpox every year.

The disease is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). Transmission occurs from person-to-person by direct contact or through the air.

In the past, chickenpox most commonly occurred in children between the ages of 5 and 9. In the US, however, there has been a shift, and now chickenpox is most common in children between the ages of 1 and 4. This difference can be linked to the proportion of children in this age group who are in daycare.

What are the symptoms of chickenpox?

Symptoms are usually mild among children, but may be life threatening to adults and people with impaired immune systems. The following are the most common symptoms of chickenpox. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

The symptoms of chickenpox may resemble other skin problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

How is chickenpox spread?

Once exposed, the incubation period is typically 14 to 16 days, but it may take as few as 10 and as many as 21 for the chickenpox to develop. Chickenpox is contagious for one to two days before the appearance of the rash and until the blisters have dried and become scabs. The blisters usually dry and become scabs within four to five days of the onset of the rash. Children should stay home and away from other children until all of the blisters have scabbed over.

Family members who have never had chickenpox have a 90 percent chance of becoming infected when another family member in the household is infected.

How is chickenpox diagnosed?

The rash of chickenpox is unique and therefore the diagnosis can usually be made on the appearance of the rash and a history of exposure.

Treatment for chickenpox:

Specific treatment for chickenpox will be determined by your child's physician based on:

Treatment for chickenpox may include:

Aspirin and the Risk of Reye Syndrome in Children

Do not give aspirin to a child without first contacting the child's physician. Aspirin, when given as treatment for children, has been associated with Reye syndrome, a potentially serious or deadly disorder in children. Therefore, pediatricians and other healthcare providers recommend that aspirin (or any medication that contains aspirin) not be used to treat any viral illnesses in children.

Children should not scratch the blisters, as this could lead to secondary bacterial infections. Keep your child's fingernails short to decrease the likelihood of scratching.

Immunity from chickenpox:

Most individuals who have had chickenpox will be immune to the disease for the rest of their lives. However, the virus remains dormant in nerve tissue and may reactivate, resulting in herpes zoster (shingles) later in life. Sometimes, a second case of chickenpox does occur. Blood tests can confirm immunity to chickenpox in people who are unsure if they have had the disease.

What complications are commonly associated with chickenpox?

Complications can occur from chickenpox. Those most susceptible to severe cases of chickenpox are adults and people with impaired immune systems. Complications may include:

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