Chickenpox (also called varicella) is a common childhood disease. It is usually mild, but it can be serious, especially in young infants and adults.
- The chickenpox virus can be spread from person to person through the air, or by contact with fluid from chickenpox blisters.
- It causes a rash, itching, fever, and tiredness.
- It can lead to severe skin infection, scars, pneumonia, brain damage, or death.
- A person who has had chickenpox can get a painful rash called shingles years later.
- About 12,000 people are hospitalized for chickenpox each year in the United States.
- About 100 people die each year in the United States as a result of chickenpox.
Most people who get chickenpox vaccine will not get chickenpox. But if someone who has been vaccinated does get chickenpox, it is usually very mild. They will have fewer spots, are less likely to have a fever, and will recover faster.
Recommendations for chickenpox vaccine
Children should get 1 dose of chickenpox vaccine between 12 and 18 months of age, or at any age after that if they have never had chickenpox.
People who do not get the vaccine until 13 years of age or older should get 2 doses, 4-8 weeks apart. Chickenpox vaccine may be given at the same time as other vaccines.
Ask your doctor or nurse for details.
When not to get chickenpox vaccine
People should not get chickenpox vaccine if they have ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to:
- The antibiotic neomycin
- A previous dose of chickenpox vaccine
- People who are moderately or severely ill at the time the shot is scheduled should usually wait until they recover before getting chickenpox vaccine.
- Pregnant women should wait to get chickenpox vaccine until after they have given birth. Women should not get pregnant for 1 month after getting chickenpox vaccine.
Some people should check with their doctor about whether they should get chickenpox vaccine, including anyone who:
- Has HIV/AIDS or another disease that affects the immune system
- Is being treated with drugs that affect the immune system, such as steroids, for 2 weeks or longer
- Has any kind of cancer
- Is taking cancer treatment with x-rays or drugs
- People who recently had a transfusion or were given other blood products should ask their doctor when they might get chickenpox vaccine.
Ask your doctor or nurse for more information.
Risks associated with chickenpox vaccine
A vaccine, like any medicine, is capable of causing serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. The risk of chickenpox vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small. Getting chickenpox vaccine is much safer than getting chickenpox disease. Most people who get chickenpox vaccine do not have any problems with it.
- Soreness or swelling where the shot was given (about 1 out of 5 children and up to 1 out of 3 adolescents and adults)
- Fever (1 person out of 10, or less)
- Mild rash, up to a month after vaccination (1 person out of 20, or less). It is possible for these people to infect other members of their household, but this is extremely rare.
- Seizure (jerking or staring) caused by fever (less than 1 person out of 1,000)
- Pneumonia (very rare)
Other serious problems, including severe brain reactions and low blood count, have been reported after chickenpox vaccination. These happen so rarely experts cannot tell whether the vaccine causes them or not. If they are, it is extremely rare.
What to look for
After vaccination, be alert for any unusual condition, such as a serious allergic reaction, high fever or behavior changes. Signs of a serious allergic reaction can include difficulty breathing, hoarseness or wheezing, hives, paleness, weakness, a fast heartbeat or dizziness within a few minutes to a few hours after the shot. A high fever or seizure, if it occurs, would happen 1 to 6 weeks after the shot.
What to do
- Call a doctor, or get the person to a doctor right away.
- Tell your doctor what happened, the date and time it happened, and when the vaccination was given.
- Ask your doctor, nurse, or health department to file a Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) form, or call VAERS at 1-800-822-7967.
The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program
In the rare event that you or your child has a serious reaction to a vaccine, a federal program has been created to help you pay for the care of those who have been harmed. For details about the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, call 1-800-338-2382 or visit the program's website at http://www.hrsa.gov/osp/vicp/INDEX.HTM .
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Last reviewed December 2000 by
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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