Chickenpox is a highly contagious infection characterized by an itchy rash made up of red, fluid-filled blisters (pox), and flu-like symptoms. Both the rash and the other symptoms can usually be effectively treated with over-the-counter medication and home remedies, though an antiviral drug may be prescribed. 

Once regarded as an inevitable disease of childhood, chickenpox has become less common since the advent of the chickenpox vaccine. Though an initial bout of chickenpox usually resolves in a few days or weeks, the virus that causes chickenpox never leaves the body and can reemerge after decades to trigger a painful illness called shingles in older adults.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When did the chickenpox vaccine come out?

    The chickenpox vaccine became available in 1995. The vaccine, marketed as Varivax and included in ProQuad combination vaccine (MMRV), protects against the varicella-zoster virus (VZV) and prevents more than 3.5 million cases of chickenpox, 9,000 hospitalizations, and 100 deaths each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • What does chickenpox look like?

    Chickenpox has a telltale rash that occurs about 14 days after exposure. Made up of hundreds of red, fluid-filled blisters, the chickenpox rash first shows up on the face, scalp, and torso, then spreads to the arms and legs.

  • Can you get shingles if you had chickenpox?

    Yes, shingles occurs when the varicella zoster virus that causes chickenpox reactivates in the body. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays dormant in the body and can reactivate later, causing shingles.

  • What causes chickenpox?

    Chickenpox is a contagious childhood illness caused by the varicella zoster virus, a virus in the herpes family. A human-only virus, varicella is spread through close contact with an infected individual. Chickenpox is largely preventable through a vaccine.

  • How is chickenpox spread?

    Chickenpox is caused by the varicella zoster virus, which spreads easily from person to person. It is transmitted mainly through close contact with someone who is infected. A person is contagious for one to two days before the telltale rash appears, and it takes between 10 to 21 days to develop symptoms. Once you have had chickenpox, you are unlikely to get it again.

  • How long Is chickenpox contagious?

    Chickenpox is contagious for one to two days before the telltale rash appears until all of the chickenpox lesions have crusted or scabbed over. In people who are vaccinated but still develop a mild case of chickenpox, the lesions may not crust. In that case, a person is contagious until there are no new lesions for 24 hours.

Key Terms

Page Sources
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  2. MedlinePlus. Papule. Updated November 3, 2020.

  3. MedlinePlus. Varicella (chickenpox) vaccine. Updated October 27, 2020.

  4. MedlinePlus. Vesicles. Updated November 3, 2020.

  5. MedlinePlus. Viral infections. Updated October 19, 2020. 

Additional Reading