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Chickenpox - Varicella

Chickenpox is not a reportable disease in Oklahoma; however, the Oklahoma State Department of Health investigates outbreaks of chickenpox to prevent transmission to susceptible persons at increased risk of complications and to offer vaccination to susceptible persons. Chickenpox is a highly infectious disease caused by the varicella virus, a member of the herpes virus family. Chickenpox primarily occurs among children, but anyone who has not had chickenpox can develop symptoms if exposed. Chickenpox is common in the United States.  Virtually everyone who is not vaccinated acquires chickenpox by adulthood.

Symptoms of chickenpox include an initial onset of a fever, tiredness and weakness.  An itchy blister-like rash follows these initial symptoms.  The blister-like rash usually appears in crops on the skin; beginning as bumps, and then forming into blisters.  The blisters dry up and scab over about five days after the onset of the rash.  The rash usually starts on the face, stomach, chest, or back, and spreads to other parts of the body.  Chickenpox symptoms begin about ten to 21 days after exposure and last until the rash scabs over (about five days after the onset of the rash).

Chickenpox is usually a mild disease and not life threatening in otherwise healthy children, but can be serious in newborn babies, adults, and other persons who have a weakened immune system (such as HIV, cancer, or organ transplant patients).  These persons have a higher risk for complications such as severe skin infections, scars, pneumonia, brain damage, and even death.

Chickenpox is transmitted to others by direct person-to-person contact, by droplet or airborne spread of discharges from an infected person's nose and throat or indirectly by contact with articles freshly soiled by discharges from the infected person's lesions.  The scabs themselves are not considered infectious. Individuals with chickenpox can spread the varicella virus from one to two days before symptoms start until all the lesions are crusted over (about five days).

Chickenpox can be prevented by the varicella vaccine and is recommended for all children at 12 to 18 months of age and older children who have not had chickenpox.  Sometimes, individuals who have been vaccinated will still get chickenpox (called ‘breakthrough disease’) when exposed to the varicella virus.  If a vaccinated person develops chickenpox, it is usually mild and short lived.  Individuals with breakthrough chickenpox can spread the virus to others who have not had the disease.

If you have the chickenpox, stay away from others until the blisters are dry and crusted.  Persons with chickenpox must stay out of school and daycare until all blisters have dried and crusted and wash articles soiled by discharges from the nose, throat, and blisters.  Chickenpox usually results in lifelong immunity. However, sometimes the infection remains hidden and can reoccur years later as shingles.