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What is Chickenpox Immunity?

D. Poupon
D. Poupon

Chickenpox immunity is the protection a human’s immune system provides against the varicella-zoster virus that causes chickenpox. Chickenpox immunity is generally achieved after a patient has recovered from naturally occurring chickenpox or when a child or adult has been vaccinated using Varivax, the chickenpox vaccine. Immunity from chickenpox, however, does not provide immunity from shingles, which is a painful disease that is caused by the same virus.

Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease amongst people who are not yet immune. Signs of chickenpox are fever and an itchy rash that appears mostly on the face and the trunk of the body. Chickenpox blisters start out as itchy red bumps, they fill with pus, and they finally pop and crust over before healing. Chickenpox typically runs its course in a couple weeks and can be treated with over-the-counter antihistamines and non-aspirin pain medication. Chickenpox is spread through the air from coughing and sneezing or from direct contact with pus from a chickenpox blister.

A boy with chickenpox.
A boy with chickenpox.

People can only have moderate to severe cases of naturally occurring chickenpox once, except in rare circumstances. Another means of achieving chickenpox immunity is through vaccination. The Center for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) in the US strongly recommends controlling chickenpox in children through vaccination. The vaccine either provides chickenpox immunity or reduces the disease to mild chickenpox. It also helps prevent disease exposure to those people who are not eligible for vaccination because of their age, they are pregnant or they have reduced immune system capabilities.

A girl with chickenpox.
A girl with chickenpox.

Women infected with chickenpox early in their pregnancy have increased risk of birth defects. It is even more dangerous at the end of pregnancy, since chickenpox in babies can be life threatening. Women of childbearing age are recommended to receive the chickenpox vaccine and develop an immunity before conception. Breastfed babies are provided with some antibodies if their mother’s have already been exposed to chickenpox.

Shingles appear later in life.
Shingles appear later in life.

Shingles, which is characterized by a painful rash that can last many months, is caused by the chickenpox virus that has hidden in a patient’s nerves. It may appear much, much later in life and is one of the longest-term chickenpox complications. Chickenpox immunity does not protect from shingles, although a separate shingles vaccine is available and recommended for people older than 60.

Milder complications from chickenpox include skin infections and scarring. Care should be taken not to scratch pox. Vary rarely people infected with chickenpox can contract a brain infection and may require anti-viral medication.

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    • A boy with chickenpox.
      By: Dan Race
      A boy with chickenpox.
    • A girl with chickenpox.
      By: Arpad Nagy-Bagoly
      A girl with chickenpox.
    • Shingles appear later in life.
      By: librakv
      Shingles appear later in life.
    • Chickenpox can be spread by sneezing or coughing.
      By: Graça Victoria
      Chickenpox can be spread by sneezing or coughing.
    • Chickenpox immunity can be achieved through vaccination.
      By: Oksana Kuzmina
      Chickenpox immunity can be achieved through vaccination.