Facts about Chickenpox for Adults

What is chickenpox?
Chickenpox is a very contagious illness that spreads easily through the air by infected people when they sneeze or cough. The disease also spreads through contact with an infected person’s chickenpox blisters. Because chickenpox is very contagious, people who never had chickenpox or the vaccine can get it just by being in a room with someone who has it. However, brief exposure is not likely to result in infection. The chickenpox virus stays in the body and can reawaken later to cause shingles.

Symptoms
Early symptoms may include body aches, fever, fatigue, and irritability, followed by a rash that develops into as many as 250-500 itchy blisters over the entire body. The rash may even spread into the mouth or other internal parts of the body. The rash usually lasts for five to seven days. The illness is usually not severe, but the risk of hospitalization and death is increased among adults and adolescents. Symptoms appear between 10 and 21 days after exposure to the virus.

Prevention
Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself against chickenpox. Nearly 100 percent of adults will develop protective antibodies against the chickenpox virus after two vaccine doses. Immunity from the vaccine is long-lasting and probably permanent in most people. People who were vaccinated against chickenpox may sometimes develop the disease but it is usually mild, with about 50 or fewer red bumps that rarely grow into blisters.

Who should get chickenpox vaccine?
Chickenpox vaccination is recommended for all susceptible adults. Some adults should receive special consideration for vaccination because they are at a higher risk for exposure/transmission:

  • Healthcare workers
  • College students
  • Household contacts of people with suppressed immune systems
  • Residents and staff in institutional settings
  • Inmates and staff of correctional institutions
  • Military personnel
  • Nonpregnant women of childbearing age
  • Teachers and daycare workers
  • International travelers
  • Non-immune persons who have been exposed to chickenpox should receive varicella vaccine to prevent or diminish the severity of illness. The vaccine is most effective if given within three to five days (72 to 120 hours) of the exposure. Vaccination is still recommended after five days to prevent future disease even if the current exposure does not result in disease.

Vaccine safety
Chickenpox vaccine is very safe. The most common side effects are mild and may include pain and redness at the injection site. A mild rash may develop. As with any medicine, there are very small risks that serious problems could occur after getting the vaccine. However, the potential risks associated with chickenpox are much greater than the potential risks associated with
the vaccine.

Disease and vaccine facts
  • FACT: Adults are more likely than children to die or have serious complications if they get chickenpox.
  • FACT: Chickenpox can be prevented with a vaccine. Sometimes vaccinated persons come down with chickenpox but the illness is usually mild with fewer than 50 lesions.
  • FACT: The same virus that causes chickenpox (varicella zoster) can remain in the body and reawaken years or decades later to cause shingles.
  • FACT: Chickenpox is contagious from one to two days before the rash appears until all the blisters have formed scabs or lesions fade away (if no blisters develop).
  • FACT: It usually takes 10 to 21 days for chickenpox symptoms to appear after exposure to an infected person.
  • FACT: People with compromised immune systems are more likely to have serious illness and complications from chickenpox and sometimes cannot be vaccinated. The best way to prevent infection in them is by immunizing their susceptible family members and their other close contacts.
  • FACT: If a pregnant woman gets chickenpox during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, her baby has a one in a 100 risk of having serious birth defects such as shortening and scarring of limbs, cataracts, small head size, abnormal development of the brain, and mental retardation.

January 2012

For more information, speak with your healthcare professional or visit www.Adultvaccination.org.