What is Varicella/Chickenpox?

Chickenpox is a very contagious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). It causes a blister-like rash, itching, tiredness, and fever. The rash appears first on the stomach, back and face and can spread over the entire body causing between 250 and 500 itchy blisters. Chickenpox can be serious, especially in babies, adults, and people with weakened immune systems. The best way to prevent chickenpox is to get the chickenpox vaccine.

Who is at risk?

Anyone who hasn’t had chickenpox or gotten the chickenpox vaccine can get the disease. Rarely, people who have been vaccinated against chickenpox can get the disease. If a vaccinated person does get chickenpox, it is usually mild—with fewer red spots or blisters and mild or no fever. The chickenpox vaccine prevents almost all cases of severe disease.

What can travelers do to prevent chickenpox?

The best way to prevent chickenpox is to get the chickenpox vaccine. Chickenpox vaccine is very safe and effective at preventing the disease. Most people who get the vaccine will not get chickenpox. Children, adolescents, and adults should get two doses of chickenpox vaccine.

Note: Shingles is also caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays dormant (inactive) in the body. For reasons that are not fully known, the virus can reactivate years later, causing shingles. There is a shingles vaccine, but this is not currently available at the travel clinic. Please talk to your primary care provider if you are interested in receiving a shingles vaccine.

Page reviewed on: Mar 09, 2017

Page reviewed by: Jessie L. Leyse, MD