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Chickenpox (varicella-zoster virus)

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Viral Illnesses



The use of the varicella virus vaccine (Varivax) is the best way to prevent chickenpox.

The vaccine is given in one dose to children 1 to 13 years of age. Those who are older are given two doses, 4 to 8 weeks apart. Protection is believed to last at least 10 to 20 years and perhaps longer, but it's unclear whether a booster shot may be necessary later in life. Many vaccines require booster doses. Time and study will tell if Varivax is one of them.

The vaccine isn't approved for use in pregnant women, people with weakened immunity or people who are allergic to gelatin or the antibiotic neomycin. Consult your doctor for more information about the varicella vaccine. Women who are planning on becoming pregnant should be up-to-date on their vaccinations before conceiving a child.

Parents typically wonder whether vaccines are safe. Since it became available, several million doses of the varicella vaccine have been given to children. Studies continue to show the vaccine to be safe and effective. Side effects are generally mild and include redness, soreness, fatigue, nausea and, rarely, small bumps at the site of the shot.

If you've had chickenpox, you don't need the vaccine. You're immune to future exposures for life. However, it may be possible that if you had a very mild infection as a child that your body may not have built up an adequate amount of antibodies to prevent a second infection. Or you may assume that you had chickenpox as a child when you actually didn't, putting you at risk of infection later in life.

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