Chickenpox (Varicella)

Chickenpox, also known as varicella, is a viral infection that causes an itchy, blister-like rash. Chickenpox is highly contagious to children who haven’t had the disease or been vaccinated against it. Even though many people don’t think of it as a serious disease, it can lead to severe illness with complications such as infected blisters, pneumonia, bleeding disorders, swelling of the brain, and even death.

The risk of hospitalization and death from chickenpox is increased in adults.

Once an individual is infected with the chickenpox, it remains in the body for life and may reappear as shingles once they are older.

Before the chickenpox vaccine was approved in the U.S., approximately 4 million people got sick with the disease each year. About 10,600 people were hospitalized, and 100 to 150 died every year as a result of chickenpox. In the 1990s, the highest rate of chickenpox illness occurred in preschool-aged children. Today, due to the vaccine, the number of cases and hospitalizations is down dramatically.


Chickenpox infection usually lasts about five to ten days. The rash is the telltale indication of chickenpox. Other signs and symptoms, which may appear one to two days before the rash, include:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache
  • Tiredness and a general feeling of being unwell

Find out why you never want to RSVP “yes” to a Chickenpox Party.


The chickenpox (varicella) vaccine is the best way to prevent chickenpox. For the best protection, your children need to receive the two recommended doses of the vaccine. Doses are given between 12 and 15 months and between 4 and 6 years of age. To see if your children are up-to-date on their vaccines, look at the CDC’s immunization schedule and talk to your healthcare provider.

As hospitalization and death from chickenpox is increased in adults, those who were never vaccinated against chickenpox should also receive two doses of the varicella vaccine. Chickenpox vaccination is especially important for:

  • Healthcare professionals
  • People who care for or are around others with weakened immune systems
  • Teachers
  • Child care workers
  • Residents and staff in nursing homes and residential settings
  • College students
  • Inmates and staff of correctional institutions
  • Military personnel
  • Non-pregnant women of child-bearing age
  • Adolescents and adults living with children
  • International travelers