Chickenpox

Background

Chickenpox is an acute, generalised viral disease resulting from primary infection with varicella-zoster virus. Onset is sudden with symptoms including:

  • mild fever
  • malaise
  • characteristic itchy vesicular rash

Chickenpox is generally not a serious infection, but complications can occur in previously healthy individuals. Complications can include:

  • encephalitis
  • pneumonia
  • secondary bacterial infection

More information on the symptoms, transmission and treatment of chickenpox can be found on the NHS inform website.

Guidance

For more information on Varicella immunisation, including updates, please refer to the Public Health England (PHE) Green Book, Chapter 34.

For all infection prevention and control guidance visit the A-Z ​pathogens section of the National Infection and Prevention Control Manual.

Data and surveillance

Chickenpox infections peak annually between February and August, but there's no apparent epidemic cycle.

Chickenpox is no longer a notifiable disease in Scotland. Diagnosis is usually based on clinical presentation rather than laboratory confirmation. Therefore data on laboratory reports isn't presented.

Vaccination

Chickenpox is a vaccine preventable disease and two live attenuated varicella vaccines are licensed in the UK and recommended for susceptible healthcare workers and other contacts of immunocompromised patients in certain circumstances.

These vaccines are:

  • Varilrix® (Oka-RIT)
  • Varivax® (Oka/Merck)

Varicella zoster vaccine has been used in Japan for many years, and is now part of the routine childhood immunisation schedule in some countries, including Canada and the United States. However it's not currently included in the childhood schedule in the UK. Passive protection against primary varicella zoster infection is achieved through the administration of human varicella-zoster immunoglobulin.

Vaccination is recommended for susceptible individuals at high risk of severe varicella with significant exposure to chickenpox.