Common questions about chicken pox

What is chicken pox (varicella)?

Varicella – commonly called chicken pox – is a very contagious disease caused by a virus. In addition to causing an itchy and blistery rash, chicken pox can cause pneumonia (a severe lung infection) and swelling of the brain that can lead to convulsions, deafness and brain damage.

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What causes chicken pox?

Chicken pox is caused by a virus. Chicken pox is easily spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or through contact with an infected person’s saliva or blisters of their rash. You child does not need to be in direct contact with an infected person to be at risk. Children who rub their eyes or mouths after they touch toys or other things that someone with chicken pox has handled can also become infected.

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What are the symptoms of chicken pox?

The first symptoms of chicken pox are usually a fever, lack of appetite, headache, cough and sore throat. One to two days after developing these first symptoms, an itchy, red spotted rash will appear. New red spots will appear daily for about five to seven days. The red spots typically go through a cycle of blistering, bursting, drying and scabbing over.

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What can happen to my child if he or she gets chicken pox?

In addition to the very unpleasant itchy rash – which can cause permanent scarring – your child could develop pneumonia and swelling of the brain as a result of being infected with the chicken pox virus. 

Sadly, unborn children are even at risk. Pregnant women exposed to chicken pox may give birth to babies with severe deformities.

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Is there a treatment or cure for chicken pox?

There is no cure for chicken pox.

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What is the name of the immunization that includes protection against chicken pox?

The MMRV vaccine will prompt your child’s immune system to build antibodies that will protect – or “arm” – your child against varicella (chicken pox), as well as measles, mumps and rubella.

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At what age should my child be immunized against chicken pox?

To be protected against chicken pox, your child needs multiple doses of the MMRV vaccine, at the ages and stages recommended in the routine schedule. Your child is recommended to receive the MMRV vaccine at 12 months of age, followed by a dose at four to six years of age (pre-school). Children who've had varicella disease before 12 months of age should still be immunized.

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Are there side effects to the chicken pox vaccine?

Your child may have redness, swelling and soreness where the needle was given. These side effects will be temporary, lasting for only one or two days. Four to 12 days after getting the immunization, your child may also develop a slight fever, a red blotchy rash and/or small blisters. These side effects are also temporary. For tips on managing side effects after immunization, click here.

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Does the chicken pox vaccine cause autism?

No, vaccines do not cause autism. Research has found no link between vaccine and autism. You may have heard about Andrew Wakefield, a British surgeon who suggested a link between autism and vaccine. What you may not have heard is that the research he published was found to be false, and Wakefield had his medical licence taken away because of this. In January 2010, Britain’s statutory tribunal of the General Medical Council found Wakefield guilty of four counts of dishonesty and 12 counts involving the abuse of developmentally challenged children, as it pertained to his false research on autism.

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Is this disease called any other names?

Chicken pox is also called varicella disease.

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