Chickenpox and Chickenpox Exposure

This information describes chickenpox and chickenpox exposure, including how the infection is spread and how it is treated.

What is chickenpox?

Chickenpox is an infection that is caused by the varicella virus. It is a common illness that causes an itchy rash and red spots or blisters (pox) all over the body.

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What are the symptoms of chickenpox?

Symptoms of chickenpox can include muscle aches, fever, and an itchy rash or blisters.

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How is chickenpox spread?

Chickenpox can be spread through contact with droplets from the nose and throat of someone who is infected. The droplets move through the air when the person coughs or sneezes. Chickenpox can also be contracted by touching an infected person’s blisters.

A person with chickenpox is contagious 1 to 2 days before their rash appears and remains contagious until all their blisters are dried and crusted.

When chickenpox is gone, the varicella virus stays in the body as an inactive virus. If the virus becomes active again, it is called herpes zoster, or shingles. Herpes zoster usually develops in people who have serious illnesses or weakened immune systems.

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What happens if someone has been exposed to chickenpox?

If someone is at risk for chickenpox and has spent time close to a person who has the infection, they will be observed to see if they develop it. It usually takes 10 to 21 days for the symptoms of chickenpox to develop after someone has been exposed to the infection. This is called the incubation period. Doctors and nurses can determine the incubation period for each person that was exposed. Please tell your doctor or nurse if you or someone you live with has been exposed to chickenpox.

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What is the treatment for chickenpox?

Chickenpox can be treated with antiviral medication. Other medications may be used to decrease itching and discomfort from the blisters.

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What precautions are taken in the hospital if I have chickenpox?

  • If you have been diagnosed with or exposed to chickenpox, you will be placed in a private room.
  • The door to your room must remain closed at all times.
  • A sign will be posted on the door telling all staff and visitors to take precautions.
  • All staff and visitors must clean their hands before going into and after leaving your room. They can use soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • All visitors and staff must wear a yellow gown, gloves, and a respirator mask while in your room.
  • If you leave your room for diagnostic tests, you must wear a yellow gown and gloves.
  • You will not be able to walk around the unit or go to the following areas of the hospital:
    • Pantry on your unit
    • Recreation center on M15
    • Pediatric recreation areas on M9
    • Cafeteria
    • Main lobby
    • Any other public area of the hospital
  • While following isolation precautions, you can have art or massage therapy in your room.
  • If have been diagnosed with chickenpox, you will no longer have to follow these precautions when all of your blisters are dried and crusted. If you have been exposed to chickenpox, your doctor or nurse will tell you when you no longer have to follow these precautions.
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