Alberta Health Services
Varicella, also called chickenpox, is a virus that can cause a fever and an itchy rash that looks like small water-filled blisters. It spreads easily through the air by coughing, sneezing, or by touching open blisters.
It is usually mild, but can be more serious in newborns, adults, and people with weak immune systems. People who get varicella can have:
Learn more about varicella.
After you get varicella, the virus stays in your body. It can become active again and cause shingles (a painful skin rash).
People with the highest risk of serious infections from varicella are:
Varicella spreads easily through the air by coughing, sneezing, or touching open blisters. You can spread varicella before you get the rash.
If you are pregnant and get varicella, there is a small risk of having a baby born with:
If you get varicella a few days before or after you have your baby, the baby has a high risk of getting very sick or dying.
The first symptoms of varicella are usually a fever, not feeling hungry, headache, runny nose and feeling unwell.
In the 1 to 2 days after these first symptoms start, an itchy and blistery rash will appear. New red spots will appear every day for about 5 to 7 days. The red spots typically go through a cycle of blistering, bursting, drying, and scabbing over. The rash can cause permanent scarring.
Teenagers, adults, and people with health problems need to see a healthcare provider for varicella. This is especially important if you are pregnant, because varicella during pregnancy can cause serious problems for your baby.
A healthy child with varicella symptoms may not need to visit a healthcare provider.
Learn more about how varicella is diagnosed.
There is no cure for varicella, but there are ways to manage symptoms at home.
If your child has varicella, there are things you can do at home to reduce itching and help them to feel better, faster.
Learn how to care for your child at home and how to control the itch.
The varicella vaccine protects against varicella. The MMR-Var vaccine protects against varicella as well as measles, mumps, and rubella.
Both vaccines also help lower your risk of developing shingles.
If you are planning a pregnancy or could become pregnant, check with your healthcare provider to make sure you’re protected against varicella. The varicella vaccine is not routinely given during pregnancy, so you should talk to your healthcare provider about whether you’re protected before you start trying to get pregnant.
Visit Ready or Not Alberta to learn more about immunization when planning a pregnancy.
You or your child may get varicella zoster immune globulin if you have contact with the virus that causes varicella (varicella zoster virus), you’re not protected against the virus, and you’re at risk of getting very sick.
Immune globulins give quick, short-term protection. For long-term protection, you need a vaccine.
Learn more about varicella zoster immune globulin.