What Is Varicella?Varicella , commonly called chickenpox, is a highly contagious infection. It is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV). It produces an itchy rash. It can cause serious complications, especially in adults, newborns, or people with weak immune systems. VZV spreads from person to person by:
- Airborne droplets of moisture that contain the virus
- Direct contact with fluid from a varicella rash
- General feeling of discomfort
- A rash of small, flat, red spots that become raised to form round, itchy, fluid-filled blisters
What Is the Varicella Vaccine?Varicella vaccine is a live virus vaccine that is given by injection. The varicella vaccine can also be given in a combination vaccine called the MMRV. This protects against measles , mumps , rubella , and varicella .
Who Should Get Vaccinated and When?The vaccine is recommended for most children aged 12-15 months. The second dose is given between ages 4-6 years.The CDC recommends the following schedule for those who have not been vaccinated:
- Up to age 13 years—2 doses, with 3 months between the first and second dose
- 13 years and above—2 doses, with a minimum of 4 weeks between the first and second dose
What Are the Risks Associated With the Varicella Vaccine?The varicella vaccine, like all vaccines, can cause problems, such as severe allergic reaction. The risk of serious harm or death is extremely small. Most people do not have any problems with the vaccine.The most common complaints are:
- Soreness or swelling around the injection site
- Mild rash
Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?You should not get the vaccine if you:
- Are ill—Wait until you feel better to get the shot
- Had varicella
- Had a life-threatening allergic reaction to gelatin, the antibiotic neomycin, or a previous dose of the varicella vaccine
- Are pregnant—Get the vaccine after you have given birth. Women who are trying to get pregnant should wait until 1 month after getting the shot to get pregnant.
- HIV/AIDS or another disease that affects the immune system
- Are being treated with medicines that affect the immune system (such as long-term steroids)
- Had a recent blood transfusion
What Other Ways Can Varicella Be Prevented Besides Vaccination?Avoiding contact with people who have the virus can reduce the chance of getting it.
What Happens in the Event of an Outbreak?In the event of an outbreak, people who have not had the virus or the vaccine should be vaccinated.
WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION?
American Academy of Pediatrics
Vaccines & Immunizations
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Chickenpox. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated August 4, 2014. Accessed November 4, 2014.
Chickenpox vaccine: What you need to know. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/varicella.html. Updated June 18, 2013. Accessed November 4, 2014.
Immunization schedules. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/index.html. Updated January 31, 2014. Accessed November 4, 2014.
Klein NP, Fireman B, et al. Vaccine SafetyDatalink. Measles-mumps-rubella-varicella combination vaccine and the risk offebrile seizures. Pediatrics. 2010;126(1):e1-e8.
Marin M, Broder KR, et al. Use of combination measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella vaccine: recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR Recomm Rep. 2010;59(RR-3):1-12.
MMRV and febrile Seizures. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/Vaccines/MMRV/studyfeature.html. Updated February 7, 2011. Accessed November 4, 2014.
Varicella (chickenpox) vaccination. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/varicella/default.htm. Updated April 5, 2012. Accessed November 4, 2014.
10/14/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Macartney K, McIntryre P. Vaccines for post-exposure prophylaxis against varicella (chickenpox) in children and adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008;(3):CD001833.
12/9/2013 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Weinmann S, Chun C, et al. Incidence and clinical characteristics of herpes zoster among children in the varicella vaccine era, 2005-2009. J Infect Dis. 2013:208(11):1859-1868.
- Reviewer: David L. Horn, MD, FACP
- Review Date: 12/2014
- Update Date: 12/20/2014