How to Avoid Getting Chicken Pox While Helping an Infected Person

Three Methods:Protecting Yourself Around an Infected PersonConsidering the Chicken Pox VaccinationIdentifying Risk Factors and Treatment Options

The Chickenpox is a common childhood disease that is highly infectious. The disease is caused by a virus called varicella zoster, which usually causes a mild and not life-threatening illness. However, the illness can be severe and possibly even fatal for some people. As an adult you may be faced with caring for a child or another adult with the chickenpox. However, if you haven’t had the chickenpox or the vaccine, you could get the disease. Learn how to avoid getting the illness in order to reduce the chances of long-term effects that you might suffer.

Method 1
Protecting Yourself Around an Infected Person

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    Understand how the Chickenpox virus spreads. The virus is highly contagious and spreads in the air through airborne particles that come from the lesions on the skin or from the upper respiratory tract. You can also contract the virus from contact with open lesions when you touch your face, nose, or mouth.[1]
    • The disease takes 10 to 21 days after exposure to develop.
    • From studies of transmission across household members, approximately 90% of people with close contact with infected individuals will develop the disease.
    • The person with varicella is contagious from one to two days before the rash breaks out on the skin and will continue to be contagious until ALL the lesions have crusted over.
    • Some people who get vaccinated may suffer from breakthrough varicella, which is a mild form of the chickenpox that includes a rash of less than 50 lesions and a slight fever. These individuals are also contagious. However, those with breakthrough varicella are only one third as contagious as those who were not vaccinated.[2]
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    Protect yourself from droplet transmission. Take precautions when caring for an individual with chickenpox to reduce the risk of droplet infection. The varicella zoster virus is spread through droplet transmission or from direct contact with the individual or touching objects or clothing that were in contact with the infected individual.[3] Droplets may come from a sneeze, cough, speaking, nasal secretions, and saliva.[4]
    • Wear a facemask to prevent secretions from entering your mouth and nose. A facemask should always be worn before being in the same room with the patient and a new mask should be used each time you wear one.
    • Wear gloves, a gown, and goggles or a face mask if the individual is sneezing, coughing, or producing a lot of nasal secretions. Droplets from a sneeze can travel through the air for up to 200 feet, so it is crucial to protect yourself.[5]
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    Wash your hands before and after touching the patient. You should make sure that you wash your hands before and after touching the patient or after having any contact with the objects, materials, or secretions of the patient. Use soap and warm water to wash your hands.[6]
    • Lather your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
    • Be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
    • If you need a timer for 20 seconds then hum “Happy Birthday” to yourself twice.
    • Rinse your hands well under warm water and pat dry with a clean towel or use hot air to dry them.
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    Keep the patient confined to one room to reduce the chance that the virus will spread. The patient’s bedroom is often the best room. If possible, have the patient use only one of the bathrooms in the home and be sure that no other person in the home uses that bathroom.[7]
    • Have the patient put on a mask when he or she leaves the bedroom to go to the bathroom. Any sneezing or coughing while out of the room may also spread the virus.
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    Use contact precautions for extra protection. Contact precautions include wearing a gown and gloves for any physical contact with the individual or other inanimate objects that may have had contact with the patient.[8]
    • When changing the bed sheets, entering the room, touching the patient, or handling any other objects, make sure that you are wearing goggles, gloves, and a gown.

Method 2
Considering the Chicken Pox Vaccination

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    Determine if you have ever had the chickenpox. If you don’t remember whether you had the chickenpox or not, you were born after 1980, and you do not have family members who can remember, your doctor can draw a blood titer. This is a blood test that measures the antibodies in your blood for the chickenpox virus.[9]
    • If you were exposed to the chicken pox and had the illness, even if it was a very mild case, then you will have antibodies in your blood that will protect you from getting it again.
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    Decide whether you should have the vaccine. There are some people who should not have the vaccine to protect from chickenpox because of other medical issues.[10] You can discuss your medical history with your doctor to determine if you should not have the vaccine. In general, you should not get the vaccine if you:
    • Have had an allergic reaction to the first dose of the vaccine
    • Are pregnant
    • Have allergies to gelatin or neomycin
    • Have an immune system disease
    • Have received a high dose of steroids
    • Are undergoing any treatments for cancer with x-ray, drugs, or chemotherapy
    • Have had a transfusion or received blood products within the last 5 months
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    Ask your doctor about getting vaccinated against the chickenpox. Getting vaccinated against the chickenpox can also protect you from contracting the disease. Although most research has been done on vaccinations prior to exposure to the virus, vaccination after exposure does offer some effective protection.[11] However, it is important to get the vaccine within five days of exposure to the illness for best results.[12]
    • If you have not had the chickenpox nor received the vaccination, speak with your physician about being vaccinated.
    • Some people who get the vaccine will get a mild case of chickenpox with fewer blisters than normal and often no fever at all.[13] The vaccine is made from live or weakened viruses.[14]
    • Children get the vaccine at 12-18 months and another dose between 4 to 6 years old. The most common side effects of the vaccine are pain, redness or swelling at the site of the injection. A small percentage of the children and adults who get the vaccine will also develop a mild rash around the spot where the shot was given.[15]

Method 3
Identifying Risk Factors and Treatment Options

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    Recognize the risks for specific populations of people who get the chickenpox. There are several populations of people who are at higher risk of developing significant complications that can be life threatening. These people include:[16]
    • Newborns and infants whose mothers have not had the chickenpox or the vaccine
    • Adults
    • Pregnant women who haven’t had the chickenpox
    • People whose immune systems are impaired by medications
    • People taking steroids
    • People taking drugs that suppress the immune system
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    Be aware of the potential complications associated with severe chickenpox. In some cases, the chickenpox can have serious complications that require emergency medical interventions. Complications from varicella infections include, but are not limited to:[17][18]
    • Bacterial infections of the skin or soft tissue
    • Pneumonia
    • Septicemia (infection in the blood)
    • Toxic Shock Syndrome
    • Bone infections
    • Septic arthritis (joint infection)
    • Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
    • Cerebellar ataxia (inflammation of the cerebellum in the brain)
    • Dehydration
    • Joint infections
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    Discuss treatment options with your doctor. Treatments for the chickenpox are usually supportive and done at home. If you are at higher risk and develop other conditions with the chickenpox, then you may need hospitalization for treatment of the secondary infection and supportive therapy. At home treatments will help the individual to recover more comfortably.[19] Common at home treatments for the chickenpox include:
    • Calamine lotion and colloidal oatmeal baths to help dry out the lesions and relieve the itching.
    • Non-aspirin medications, such as acetaminophen, to relieve fever. Aspirin products have been associated with Reye’s syndrome which is a severe disease that affects the liver and brain, leading to death.
    • Antiviral medications for people in a high risk group who may develop secondary infections. Those antiviral medications include acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir.
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    Know when to seek medical attention. If the individual is being treated at home, it is important to know what situations require immediate medical attention.[20] Call your doctor or take the individual to an emergency room if the individual:
    • Is older than 12 years of age for preventative supportive care
    • Has a weakened immune system
    • Is pregnant
    • Has a fever that lasts longer than 4 days
    • Has a fever above 102 °F (38.9 °C)
    • Has areas of the rash that becomes very red, warm or tender
    • Has an area that leaks thick discolored fluid
    • Has difficulty waking up or appears confused
    • Has difficulty walking
    • Has a stiff neck
    • Has frequent vomiting
    • Has difficulty breathing or a severe cough


  • Chickenpox is a common childhood illness that is highly contagious and requires significant precautions if you want to prevent the spread of the disease.
  • If you are an adult or have a weakened immune system, you should practice consistent and cautious care around someone with chickenpox as the consequences are dangerous and possibly life-threatening.
  • Keep in mind that people who have shingles can also spread chickenpox to people who haven’t had it before, but only through direct contact. Droplet infection is not possible when you have shingles.[21]Once you have had Chickenpox you can develop shingles, years or even decades later.

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Categories: Skin Conditions