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Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent chickenpox. Currently, two doses of vaccine are recommended for children, adolescents, and adults.
While no vaccine is 100% effective in preventing disease, the chickenpox vaccine is very effective: about 8 to 9 out of every 10 people who are vaccinated are completely protected from chickenpox. In addition, the vaccine almost always prevents severe disease. If a vaccinated person does get chickenpox, it is usually a very mild case lasting only a few days and involving fewer skin blisters (usually less than 50), mild or no fever, and few other symptoms.
Getting chickenpox vaccine is much safer than getting chickenpox disease. Most people who get chickenpox vaccine do not have any problems with it. Learn more about possible side effects of chickenpox vaccines.
A “combination” vaccine called MMRV, which contains both chickenpox and measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines, may be given to people 12 years of age and younger instead of the 2 individual vaccines. Your child’s doctor can help you decide which vaccine to use.
Anyone born during or after 1980 who has not had chickenpox or been vaccinated is at risk and should get 2 doses of the chickenpox vaccine. (The combination MMRV vaccine is not licensed for those over 12 years old.)
However, pregnant women should wait to get the chickenpox vaccine until after they have given birth. Women should not get pregnant for 1 month after getting the chickenpox vaccine.
Chickenpox is a disease caused by infection with the varicella zoster virus. The main symptom of chickenpox is an itchy rash all over the body, usually along with fever and drowsiness.
Chickenpox is very contagious and spreads easily from infected people. It can spread from either a cough or a sneeze. It can also spread by contact with virus particles that come from the blisters on the skin, either by touching them or by breathing in these virus particles.
A person with chickenpox is contagious 1-2 days before the rash appears and until all blisters have formed scabs. It takes from 10-21 days after exposure for someone to develop chickenpox.
Chickenpox is usually mild, but it can lead to complications such as severe skin infection, scars, pneumonia, brain damage, or death. It is not possible to predict who will have a mild case of chickenpox and who will have a serious or even deadly case of disease.
After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays in the body and can re-emerge years later to cause a painful condition called shingles.
Symptoms of chickenpox include:
If exposed, persons who have been vaccinated against the disease may get a milder illness, with less severe rash (sometimes involving only a few red bumps that look more like insect bites than blisters) and mild or no fever.
Anyone can get chickenpox. Compared with children, adolescents and adults are at increased risk of complications related to chickenpox. Certain groups of people are more likely to have more severe illness with serious complications. These include adults, infants, adolescents, and people whose immune systems have been weakened because of illness or medications such as long-term use of steroids.
Because it is so easy to catch chickenpox, there were about 4 million cases in the United States a year before a vaccine was available. Almost every person in this country used to get chickenpox at some point in their lives.
Thanks to vaccination, serious cases and deaths from chickenpox have declined dramatically. Since the United States started using the vaccine in 1995, the number of hospitalizations and deaths from chickenpox has gone down more than 90%