Chickenpox (Varicella)

Chickenpox is an acute infection caused by a virus.  The virus is very infectious and spreads rapidly among children and adults who have not had the illness before.  It is usually spread from person to person in secretions from the nose and throat (as coughs and sneezes).  Because the fluid in the skin lesions is infectious, direct contact with these blisters can also lead to the disease. It is possible to get chickenpox from a person with shingles as the spots are contagious. 

Symptoms commonly appear 15 days after infection, with a range of 14 to 21 days. 

A person is able to transmit chickenpox from 5 days before the rash appears to approximately 6 days after the first lesion appears. 

Although chickenpox is thought of as a simple childhood illness it can rarely cause birth defects in the foetus if contracted by the mother in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.  Pregnant women can also develop more severe illness such as pneumonia.  A newborn is especially susceptible if the mother develops spots 5 days either side of delivery. 

If you have had chickenpox it generally results in lifelong immunity.  A blood test can detect whether or not you have had chickenpox. 

Pregnant women who have previously had chickenpox are immune to further infection.  This existing immunity protects the baby in the womb. 

If you come into contact with chickenpox and you are not immune, you need to contact your Obstetrician and she will arrange for you to have an injection (ZIG) within 78 hours of contact.