Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Skin Problems & Treatments Health Center

Select An Article
Font Size

Understanding Chickenpox -- the Basics

What Is Chickenpox?

Chickenpox (varicella), a viral illness characterized by a very itchy red rash, used to be one of the most common infectious diseases of childhood. But as a result of the wide use of vaccinations since the 1990s, it has become so uncommon that many doctors in practice now have never seen it. 

Chickenpox is usually mild in children, but adults run the risk of serious complications, including bacterial pneumonia.

Understanding Chickenpox

Find out more about chickenpox:

Basics

Symptoms

Treatment

Prevention

People who have had chickenpox almost always develop lifetime immunity (meaning you can't get it again). However, the virus remains dormant in the body, and it can reactivate later in life and cause shingles.

Because the chickenpox virus can pass from a pregnant woman to her unborn child, possibly causing birth defects, doctors often advise women considering pregnancy to confirm their immunity with a blood test.

What Causes Chickenpox?

Chickenpox is caused by the herpes zoster virus, also known as the varicella zoster virus. It is spread by droplets from a sneeze or cough, or by contact with the clothing, bed linens, or oozing blisters of an infected person. The onset of symptoms occurs seven to 21 days after exposure. The disease is most contagious a day before the rash appears and up to seven days after, or until the rash is completely dry and scabbed.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD on March 08, 2014
Next Article:

Today on WebMD

Cleansing skin
Article
Contact Dermatitis
Evaluator
 
woman showing eczema to dermatologist
Tool
mosquito bite
Q&A
 
itchy skin
Article
shingles rash on skin
Article
 
woman with skin tag
Quiz
Harvest mite
Slideshow
 
woman washing her hair in sink
Video
close up of womans bare neck
Tools
 
Feet
Slideshow
woman with face cream
Quiz