Chickenpox, or varicella, is a common childhood disease caused by the varicella virus. It is highly contagious.
- Chickenpox vaccine is provided free of charge by Alberta Health through your local public health office as part of the routine immunization schedule.
- A second dose of varicella vaccine is now recommeded for children between 4–6 years of age.
- Read more about mumps, measles, rubella and varicella vaccine
How is chickenpox spread?
Chickenpox, or varicella, spreads easily from person to person.
- It can spread through the air when a person is in the room with someone who has chickenpox, and may be spread by someone who has the disease even before the typical rash breaks out.
- You can also catch it through contact with liquid from a chickenpox blister or saliva from an infected person.
- A pregnant woman with chickenpox can pass it to her baby before birth or can give it to her newborn baby.
What problems can chickenpox disease cause?
- If the blisters get infected, people may be left with disfiguring scars.
- Chickenpox can lead to pneumonia or problems with any other organs such as the brain, the liver and the heart.
- Pregnant women who get chickenpox may give birth to babies with birth defects, such as skin scars, eye problems, or incompletely formed arms or legs.
- Chickenpox can be very severe or even life threatening to newborn babies, adults, and those who have weak immune systems.
- Chickenpox virus can reactivate later in life to cause shingles, a painful rash that can be very severe, especially in the elderly.
About chickenpox vaccine
Chickenpox vaccine contains a tiny amount of the chickenpox virus, which has been specially treated so that it will not cause disease in healthy people.
Who SHOULD receive the chickenpox vaccine?
Anyone who has not had chickenpox disease and has not been immunized should receive the vaccine.
It is expecially important for the following people to be projected:
- Anyone living in a household or caring for someone whose immune system is weak or damaged by disease or medications.
- All healthcare workers who have the potential to acquire chickenpox disease from people or transmit chickenpox disease to others during the course of their work.
- Women who have just recently had a baby and whose blood tests indicate they have not had chickenpox disease already.
Although it will cause no harm, there is no reason to give this vaccine if a person has already had chickenpox disease or chickenpox vaccine after one year of age because you already have protection against future chickenpox infection.
Talk to your public health nurse if you have any questions.
Who should NOT receive the vaccine?
- Babies less than one year old.
- People whose immune systems are weak or damaged from disease or certain medications (unless their specialist recommends it).
- Women who are pregnant, or trying to get pregnant (women should not get pregnant for at least one month after getting the chickenpox vaccine).
- People who have previously had chickenpox or chickenpox vaccine, after 1 year of age, as they likely already have protection.
- Anyone who has had immunization with a live vaccine within 3 months should talk to a public health nurse first.
What should you do if there is a reaction to this vaccine?
It is common to have redness, swelling and soreness in the area where the needle was given for one or two days. Between 4 and 12 days after getting the vaccine, some children may have a slight fever, and/or small blisters like varicella.
- For pain or swelling where the needle was given, apply a cool moist towel to the area for about 15 minutes. Repeat as needed.
- Use acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol® or Tempra®) as directed on the bottle if your child has pain or a fever (temperature over 38 C or 100.4 F).
NOTE: Aspirin® (ASA) is not recommended for persons under 18 years of age because of the increased risk of Reye’s syndrome.
Serious reactions are rare. As with any immunization, unexpected or unusual reactions can occur. If your child has an unusual reaction, speak with your local public health nurse or call Health Link Alberta.