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Chickenpox, also known as varicella, is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus.


Chickenpox produces a skin rash that is sometimes accompanied by fever and itching.

The rash consists of bumps or red spots that turn into blisters filled with fluid; like water bubbles. New blisters may continue to form over several days. Soon after, the blisters form a crust and dry up.


To lower the fever, take over-the-counter drugs such as acetaminophen, Tylenol® for example, following directions given by the manufacturer.

To relieve the itching, take a bath in oatmeal every day. Pour 2 glasses of ground oatmeal in bath water. Commercial solutions such as Aveeno® are available over the counter.


Chickenpox can have serious consequences. Possible complications include the following:

  • Ear infection
  • Pneumonia
  • Skin infection  resulting from infection of a chickenpox blister (example: impetigo)
  • Serious infection (example: flesh-eating disease)
  • Encephalitis (infection of the brain)
  • Deformities in babies of women with chickenpox during pregnancy

In 15 to 30% of cases, the virus that causes chickenpox may remain in a dormant state and reactivate years later and cause shingles.  

Certain complications of the disease can even lead to death.


Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease. It is spread easily from person to person by nose and throat secretions. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, the virus floats in the air and people close by may breathe it in. Chickenpox also spreads through contact with the blisters.

Protection and prevention

It is recommended that you get vaccinated to prevent chickenpox and the resulting complications. The chickenpox vaccine is given free of charge under the Québec Immunisation Program.

Before implementation of the chickenpox vaccine program, hundreds of children in Québec were hospitalized each year due to complications of the disease. Since the program has been in place, that number has been reduced by nearly 90%.

To learn more, consult the recommended immunization schedule.

Last update: April 17, 2019


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