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Adult Chicken Pox
May 2002

Q. Can you provide information about adult chicken pox? What is the risk of contagiousness for people who already had chicken pox? How long are people contagious and when? Is there any risk for someone who has already had it? Is there any risk to be around an elderly person who had chicken pox when they were younger?

A. Chicken pox, scientifically known as varicella, is a viral infection caused by a type of Herpes virus. It is well-known in childhood by the extensive pox rash, little blisters that often cover the entire body of the infected child. It is generally accompanied by fever, cough, and sore throat although those symptoms can vary. It is quite contagious to those who do not have immunity, for example exposure in a school setting can often cause more than half the children to become ill within 2-3 weeks.

A vaccine is now available that is quite effective at prevention, and is now given routinely in childhood. In addition, anti-viral drugs for this infection are now available and often lessen the severity and duration of the illness. The infected person may be contagious before the rash occurs, and is likely contagious until all the blisters clear up and fever resolves. After infection, protective antibodies form which should last a lifetime, but immunity can certainly be less in the elderly.



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