What is it?

Varicella (chickenpox) is a highly contagious infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV).

What to look for

Infection usually begins with 1-2 days of fever, runny nose and lethargy.

An itchy rash follows, involving fluid filled vesicles (blisters) that can cover any part of the body including inside the mouth, eyelids and genital area. Severe complications can include pneumonia, meningitis and encephalitis.

Varicella in pregnancy can result in skin scarring, ocular anomalies, limb defects and neurological malformations for the infant.

The virus can be reactivated later in life and cause Zoster (Shingles).

How is it transmitted?

Varicella can be transmitted by coughing or sneezing, or from direct contact with the fluid inside the vesicles.


Immunisation is the most effective form of prevention. A single dose of the live-attenuated vaccine is currently funded on the NIP for children at age 18 months of age, however giving a 2nd dose (not funded) provides greater protection. For those ≥14 years of age, 2 doses (administered 1 month apart) are required for the protection on non-immune individuals.


Reviewed by: Rachael McGuire (SAEFVIC Research Nurse, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute)

Date: February 2018

Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Melbourne Vaccine Education Centre (MVEC) staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.

You should not consider the information in this site to be specific, professional medical advice for your personal health or for your family’s personal health. For medical concerns, including decisions about vaccinations, medications and other treatments, you should always consult a healthcare professional.