Chickenpox is normally a mild disease and is rarely a cause for concern for children or adults who get it. While chickenpox can be easily managed at home, it is still very contagious and can be easily spread to people who have no immunity to the varicella-zoster virus (VZV) responsible for the illness. The spotty, blistering rash which is typical of chickenpox is the most well-known way to pass on the infection, but is it always contagious? Here’s what you need to know about when chickenpox can be passed on to others.
When is chickenpox contagious?
Chickenpox is medically known as varicella because it is caused by the varicella zoster virus.
This is a highly infectious disease, which means it’s easy to catch from someone who already has chickenpox – though you can build up immunity once you’ve had it.
According to Chickenpox Aware, 90 percent of adults in the UK are immune to the illness because they had it as a child, but it is still easily spread to children who have not yet been exposed to VZV.
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While the virus stays dormant in your system after contracting chickenpox, it is only contagious for a limited period of time while you are feeling unwell and have the skin rash.
The NHS said: “You can spread chickenpox to other people from two days before your spots appear until they have formed all the scabs.”
Once the blistering rash has completely dried out and stops oozing fluid, the disease is no longer considered contagious.
It is important to wait until all spots have turned into dry scabs as new spots can appear even as others begin to fade away.
How easy is it to catch chickenpox?
Chickenpox is very easy to spread to others if they do not already have immunity to the varicella-zoster virus.
In fact, you can catch the disease just by being in the same room as someone who is infected with it.
Surface contact can also lead to infection if you come into contact with items that have fluid from the blisters on them.
You are unlikely to develop symptoms immediately after contracting the virus, so it’s not always easy to know if you’ve caught it.
The spots usually appear around one to three weeks after infection, though there are other signs you may notice earlier, including:
- A high temperature
- Aches and pains
- Generally feeling under the weather
- Loss of appetite
NHS Advice states that chickenpox spots look the same on children and adults, but adults usually have a high temperature for longer and more spots than children.
To avoid spreading the virus to others, it is recommended to spend at least five days away from school, nursery or work until the spots have reached the dry, scabby stage.