Preventing Chickenpox

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Chickenpox is a highly contagious infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). It is spread by close contact with an infected person as well as through respiratory droplets and aerosolized airborne particles that are emitted when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Avoiding contact with anyone who has chickenpox can reduce the risk of transmission. But, ultimately, the best way to protect yourself against chickenpox is by getting the chickenpox vaccine.

How to Prevent Chickenpox

Verywell / Laura Porter

Vaccination

Since the varicella-zoster vaccine was first introduced in 1995, the risk of getting chickenpox has been dramatically reduced. Today, there are two different vaccines used to immunize against chickenpox:

  • Varivax (varicella virus vaccine live): a single vaccine
  • ProQuad (MMRV): a combination vaccine that is also used to prevent measles, mumps, and rubella

Both are live attenuated vaccines, meaning that they contain live weakened viruses that cannot cause disease.

The varicella vaccine should not be confused with the shingles vaccine (Shingrix), which is used to prevent shingles—a disease caused by the reactivation of VZV later in life.

Uses

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), healthy people who have never had chickenpox or who have never been vaccinated should get the chickenpox vaccine according to the following recommendations: 

  • Children should get two doses—the first at 12 to 15 months of age and the second between 4 to 6 years of age. 
  • Persons age 7 to 12 years without evidence of immunity should receive two doses delivered three months apart.
  • People 13 and older (only including adults born in 1980 or later) who have never had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine should get two doses, delivered four to eight weeks apart.

When delivered as prescribed, two doses of the chickenpox vaccine can reduce the risk of chickenpox by 88% to 98%.

It is not known how long the vaccine can protect against chickenpox, although most live vaccines are known to deliver long-lasting immunity. Some studies have reported detectable levels of VZV antibodies in immunized people after 10 to 20 years.

Contraindications

Despite the benefits of chickenpox vaccination, the vaccine is not suitable for everyone. The chickenpox vaccine is contraindicated for use in people who:

People currently experiencing moderate to severe illness should also postpone vaccination until they are fully recovered.

Dosage

The chickenpox vaccine is given by subcutaneous (under the skin) injection, either into the upper arm or thigh. The recommended dosage and vaccine type varies according to a person's age:

  • Children 12 to 47 months are generally given Varivax and the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR) separately for the first dose. For the second dose, MMRV is usually preferred.
  • People 13 years and older are given Varivax for both doses. The MMRV vaccine is not approved for this older age group.
Ages 1st Dose 2nd Dose Doses Separated By
12 to 47 months Varivax* MMRV At least 3 months
48 months to 12 years MMRV MMRV At least 3 months
13 years and over Varivax Varivax 4 to 8 weeks
* Unless the parent or guardian has a preference for MMRV

Side Effects

The side effects of the chickenpox vaccine are usually mild, and some people experience no side effects at all. The most commonly noted side effects include:

  • Pain at the injection site
  • Low-grade fever
  • Mild rash at the injection site
  • Temporary joint stiffness and pain

According to the CDC, 1`of 5 children experience side effects within three days of getting the first dose, compared with 1 of 4 children who received the second dose.

Other Prevention Tips

Since people infected with chickenpox are contagious for one to two days before they develop a rash, it's possible to be exposed to someone who has chickenpox before they even know they're sick.

Even so, if someone in your family has chickenpox, there are things you can do to help prevent further spread of infection:

  • Keep the infected family member isolated in a separate "sick room."
  • Limit the time you spend in the sick room because the virus can spread through the air.
  • Avoid touching or kissing the sick family member as much as you can, and be sure to wash your hands thoroughly afterward.
  • Wear disposable gloves when touching objects or surfaces that may have been exposed to the virus.
  • Avoid sharing cups, dishes, or eating utensils with the sick family member. Wash these items in the dishwasher or in hot, soapy water.
  • Disinfect doorknobs and non-porous surfaces with an approved disinfectant cleaner. Diluted chlorine bleach (1 part bleach to 9 parts water) can also work.
  • Encourage the infected family member to avoid scratching the fluid-filled blisters as the fluid inside is highly contagious. Cotton mittens and trimmed fingernails may help reduce the risk of skin breakage.

People with chickenpox need to stay home until all blisters are dry and have fully scabbed over (usually five to seven days after the onset of rash).

Vaccinated children with chickenpox may not develop blisters. However, these children should stay at home until the spots have faded and no new spots have developed within a 24 hour period.

A Word From Verywell

In the United States, the vaccination rate for chickenpox in school-age children is now over 90%, which has led to a high degree of herd immunity. However, this shouldn't suggest that varicella vaccinations—or any childhood vaccinations for that matter—are any less important than they ever were.

By keeping yourself (and your child) up to date with the recommended vaccines, you can protect not only yourself and those close to you, but your surrounding community as well.

Chickenpox Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Child

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When was the chickenpox vaccine developed?

    The vaccine for chickenpox was introduced in 1995. It now prevents more than 3.5 million cases of chickenpox a year, as well as 9,000 hospitalizations and 100 deaths. It also reduces the risk of developing of shingles—a related condition that is caused by the same virus later in life.

  • Is it possible to get chickenpox if you’ve been vaccinated?

    It is possible, in what’s called breakthrough varicella. However, chickenpox in those who have been vaccinated is less contagious and results in less severe symptoms. Those who contract it generally have a low fever or no fever at all and develop fewer than 50 lesions. Among people who received only one dose of the vaccine and have breakthrough infection, 25% to 30% will develop symptoms as if they had not been vaccinated, which is why two doses are recommended.

  • How can I prevent the spread of chickenpox?

    Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent chickenpox. Because it is highly contagious, if you live with someone who has an active infection, you’re also very likely to get it. To prevent transmission outside your home, anyone infected should self-isolate until they are no longer contagious (until all lesions have crusted over). Then, wash and sanitize any linens or other items that have come into contact with chickenpox lesions.

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