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revised July 10, 2017
Adapted with permission from the Canadian Paediatric Society. For more information please visit http://www.cps.ca

Arrow BulletChickenpox

Fast Facts

  • Chickenpox is a very common infection in childhood. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which only infects people.
  • There is a vaccine (varicella vaccine) now available to prevent chickenpox.
  • Chickenpox is common in children and is usually mild. When adults get it, however, they can be very sick. Most adults have already had chickenpox and will not get it again.
  • Chickenpox is also very dangerous for people with immune system problems like leukemia, or for people who are taking drugs which suppress the immune system, such as steroids.
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How Chickenpox is Spread

  • The chickenpox virus spreads very easily through the air.
  • The only way to stop the spread of the virus from person to person is to prevent infected people from sharing the same room or house before symptoms appear, which is not very practical.
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  • Chickenpox begins with a fever, followed in a day or two by a rash that can be very itchy.
  • The rash starts with red spots that soon turn into fluid-filled blisters.
  • New blisters may form during the next few days, and after a few days, crust form over the blisters.
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If Your Child Has Chicken Pox ...

  • If your child gets chickenpox, do not give aspirin acetylsalicylic acid (ASA)or any products that contain aspirin . Taking aspirin increases the risk of getting Reye's syndrome. This severe illness can damage the liver and brain. If you want to control your child's fever, it is safe to use acetaminophen (Tylenol™, Tempra™, Panadol™) and others.
  • If one of your children has chickenpox, don't try to keep your other children in separate places in the house. It's usually impossible to prevent chickenpox from spreading to other members of the family. If someone else catches the infection, it will appear two to three weeks after the first family member got it.
  • Individuals with chickenpox have been shown to be the most infectious 12 to 24 hours before the rash appears. Since chickenpox is typically diagnosed after the onset of the rash, excluding children with a rash is not effective in preventing the transmission of the disease.
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School & Daycare Guidelines

  • Watch your child for signs of chickenpox during the next two to three weeks if another child has it. If your child develops chickenpox, make sure you tell school and daycare staff and contact your physician if you have any questions.
  • Children with chickenpox, who have a fever and are not well, should not be at daycare.
  • Parents of other children in school/childcare facility — particularly parents of immunosuppressed children — should be notified that chickenpox is in the class/school/childcare facility and should be provided with information about chickenpox.
  • The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that a child with mild chickenpox should be allowed to return to school or childcare centre as soon as he or she is well enough to participate normally in all activities, regardless of the state of the rash.
  • Children with open chickenpox lesions may be at risk of developing secondary skin infections but pose minimal risk to other children in the centre.
  • Chickenpox is a reportable communicable disease. Please advise the child care facility if your child has chickenpox. The child care facility is required to report this disease to Peel Health.
  • To report Chickenpox in your school: please use Notification of Chickenpox (Varicella) in Schools form
    See sample Chickenpox notification letter for parents
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Chickenpox Vaccine

  • The chickenpox (varicella) vaccine is safe and effective.
  • Children receive two publicly funded doses of the chickenpox vaccine at 15 months of age and at 4-6 years of age.
  • The second dose is given as the combined MMRV (measles, mumps, rubella and varicella) vaccine and should be given prior to starting school.
  • Children who were born on or after January 1, 2000 are eligible to receive two doses of chickenpox vaccine for free.
  • Chickenpox vaccination is required to attend school for children born on or after January 1, 2010 or provide a valid exemption.
  • If you are exposed to chickenpox and you are pregnant and have not had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine, your doctor may give you an injection of Varicella-Zoster immune globulin to help prevent the disease.
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Chickenpox & Shingles

  • Shingles (zoster) looks like chickenpox and is caused by the same virus but is found on only one part of the body.
  • Shingles occurs in people who have already had chickenpox and is very infectious.
  • It is possible to catch chickenpox from someone with shingles but someone cannot get shingles from someone with chickenpox.
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Chickenpox & Pregnancy

  • Adults — pregnant women in particular — can develop severe chickenpox.
  • If you are pregnant and have not had chickenpox, or if you have not lived in the same house with someone who has had chickenpox or shingles, call your physician as soon as your child develops chickenpox. Your physician can give you a special type of immune globulin (VZIG) injection to help prevent you from getting a severe infection.
  • If you catch chickenpox early in your pregnancy, there is a very small chance of it damaging your unborn child. If you have chickenpox shortly before or after giving birth, your newborn may develop a very severe infection.
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Chickenpox & Immunodeficiency

  • If any child in your household has an immune system disorder, contact your physician. The physician can give that person a special type of immune globulin containing a large number of antibodies (protective substances in the blood) to help prevent infection.
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