About 1 in 10 children who first have chickenpox symptoms will have a complication that is serious enough to require a visit to a healthcare provider.
Most complications of chickenpox are caused by an infection from bacteria. These bacteria can cause complications such as:
- Skin or soft tissue infections
- Pneumonia (usually more severe in adults and in children over 13 years old)
- Bone infections (osteomyelitis)
- Joint infections (septic arthritis)
- Toxic shock syndrome.
Other serious complications directly related to the chickenpox virus can include:
- Infection of the brain (encephalitis)
- Bleeding problems
- Cerebellar ataxia.
Chickenpox transmission occurs via direct contact with someone infected with the virus or through the air from an infected person's coughing or sneezing. Less commonly, transmission can occur when someone comes into direct contact with a person who has an active herpes zoster (shingles) infection.
A person with chickenpox is contagious 1-2 days before the rash appears and until all blisters have formed scabs.
(Click Chickenpox Transmission for more information.)
The usual incubation period is 14-16 days (ranging between 10-21 days).
(Click Chickenpox Incubation Period for more information.)
In 1995, the Food and Drug Administration approved the varicella vaccine, also known as the chickenpox vaccine, for the prevention of chickenpox. The vaccine is now widely available in private doctors' offices and public health clinics.
The vaccine is the best way to prevent chickenpox, therefore protecting children and adults from the severe complications (including death) that can occur with this illness.