Ask an adult over age 30 about the chicken pox and many will immediately start to feel a little itchy and uncomfortable. These itchy adults can often tell you their story about the week they missed school. They can also recall their parents scolding them every time they went to scratch because a parent never wanted their child to have any scars left after their scabs fell off. Or they may even tell you about having to wear an oven mitt to help keep them from scratching or having to constantly dab a cotton ball with calamine lotion onto each blister every few hours to try and find relief.

For many of us, the chicken pox was a normal part of childhood. It was just something that traveled through your lower elementary classes with all of your friends eventually taking their turn. And when it was your turn, you were always told to stay home, not to scratch and to stay away from your infant siblings or pregnant mother. 

But, what really is the chicken pox?

Chicken pox is a highly contagious infectious disease caused by the Varicella Zoster Virus. It causes fever, fatigue, and a very itchy rash that covers the entire body. One person can have up to 500 blisters at a time with a chicken pox infection! (Believe me–they can be everywhere.)

Complications associated with chicken pox include bacterial infections on the skin, pneumonia, and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain.) These complications are more common in babies, adolescents, and pregnant women. And that’s why you were told to stay away from very young siblings and your pregnant mom when you had the chicken pox. 

And, don’t we now have a vaccine for the chicken pox?

Yes, the Varicella vaccine is a safe and effective way to prevent chicken pox. Two doses are recommended. The first is given at age one and the second at age four.  This vaccine has been available for children 12 months of age and older since 1995. Now with the vaccine, many of our children and even many parents have never had to experience the chicken pox like the generations before them.


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Heather Felton, M.D.

Dr. Heather Felton is medical director of UofL Pediatrics – Sam Swope Kosair Charities Centre. She is also an assistant professor at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky and her medical degree from the University of Louisville School of Medicine. She is a member of the American Medical Association, Kentucky Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and Group of Women in Medicine and Science. Her specialty is pediatrics. Dr. Felton’s areas of interest include safety and injury prevention; improving anticipated guidance provided to families during check-ups; and advocating for children’s safety.

All posts by Heather Felton, M.D.
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