Prevention and Treatment
The best way to prevent chickenpox is to get the chickenpox vaccine. Everyone—including children, adolescents, and adults—should get two doses of chickenpox vaccine if they have never had chickenpox or were never vaccinated.
Chickenpox vaccine is very safe and effective at preventing the disease. Most people who get the vaccine will not get chickenpox. If a vaccinated person does get chickenpox, the symptoms are usually milder with fewer or no blisters (they may have just red spots) and low or no fever.
The chickenpox vaccine prevents almost all cases of severe illness. Since the chickenpox vaccination program began in the United States, there has been over 97% decrease in chickenpox cases. Hospitalizations and deaths have become rare.
For more information about chickenpox vaccine, see Vaccination.
There are several things that you can do at home to help relieve chickenpox symptoms and prevent skin infections. Calamine lotion and a cool bath with added baking soda, uncooked oatmeal, or colloidal oatmeal may help relieve some of the itching. Try to keep fingernails trimmed short and minimize scratching to prevent the virus from spreading to others and to help prevent skin infections. If you do scratch a blister by accident, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Do not use aspirin or aspirin-containing products to relieve fever from chickenpox. The use of aspirin in children with chickenpox has been associated with Reye’s syndrome, a severe disease that affects the liver and brain and can cause death. Instead, use non-aspirin medications, such as acetaminophen, to relieve fever from chickenpox. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding treatment with ibuprofen if possible because it has been associated with life-threatening bacterial skin infections.
For people exposed to chickenpox or shingles, call a healthcare provider if the person:
- Has never had chickenpox and is not vaccinated with the chickenpox vaccine
- Is pregnant
- Has a lowered ability to fight germs and sickness (weakened immune system) caused by disease or medication; for example:
- A person with HIV/AIDS or cancer
- A person who has had a transplant
- A person on chemotherapy, immunosuppressive medications, or long-term use of steroids
If you have symptoms, call your healthcare provider. Contacting a healthcare provider is especially important if the person:
- Is at risk of serious complications from chickenpox because they:
- Are less than 1 year old
- Are older than 12 years of age
- Have a weakened immune system
- Are pregnant
- Develops any of the following symptoms:
- Fever that lasts longer than 4 days
- Fever that rises above 102°f (38.9°c)
- Any areas of the rash or any part of the body becomes very red, warm, or tender, or begins leaking pus (thick, discolored fluid), as these symptoms may indicate a bacterial infection
- Difficulty waking up or confused behavior
- Difficulty walking
- Stiff neck
- Frequent vomiting
- Difficulty breathing
- Severe cough
- Severe abdominal pain
- Rash with bleeding or bruising (hemorrhagic rash)
Your healthcare provider can advise you on treatment options. Antiviral medications are recommended for people with chickenpox that are more likely to develop serious illness, including:
- Otherwise healthy people older than 12 years of age
- People with chronic skin or lung disease
- People receiving long-term salicylate therapy or steroid therapy
- People who are pregnant
- People with a weakened immune system
There are antiviral medications licensed for treatment of chickenpox. The medication works best if it is given as early as possible, preferably within the first 24 hours after the rash starts. For more information, see Acyclovir Treatment.