Varicella, commonly called chickenpox, is a highly contagious infection. It is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV). It produces an itchy rash. It can cause serious complications, especially in adults, newborns, or people with weak immune systems.

VZV spreads from person to person by:

  • Airborne droplets of moisture that contain the virus
  • Direct contact with fluid from a varicella rash

It is most contagious just after the rash has broken out. It is also contagious 1-2 days before the rash erupts and until all of the blisters have crusted.

Symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • General feeling of discomfort
  • A rash of small, flat, red spots that become raised to form round, itchy, fluid-filled blisters

It takes about 10-21 days to develop varicella after contact with an infected person. The illness lasts 5-10 days. The rash usually develops on the face and trunk.

Treatment generally focuses on reducing itchiness, such as using anti-itch cream. Antibiotics may be used for rashes that become infected. Antiviral drugs might be considered for some patients.

Varicella can lead to scarring, pneumonia, and death in severe cases.

Varicella vaccine is a live virus vaccine that is given by injection. The varicella vaccine can also be given in a combination vaccine called the MMRV. This protects against measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella.