Chickenpox (varicella) is a highly contagious disease most common in tamariki. It causes itchy, fluid-filled blisters on the skin. Infections are normally mild, but chickenpox can make some people very sick.

Symptoms of chickenpox

Symptoms of chickenpox usually start 10 to 21 days after being exposed.

The most common symptom is small, itchy blisters like a rash on the skin. Other symptoms of chickenpox are:

  • tiredness
  • fever
  • general aches and pains.

Complications are not common in healthy people who get the disease. Chickenpox symptoms usually last for 1 to 2 weeks.

Once you have had chickenpox, it is unusual to get it again — your body can develop immunity after you have it. But, the virus can become active later in life and cause shingles.

Chickenpox spreads through the air by sneezes or coughs, by touching the chickenpox blisters of an infected person, or by having contact with shingles blisters.

Staying home

Chickenpox is contagious from 1 to 2 days before the blisters appear. Avoid close contact with other people until you have stopped getting new blisters and all blisters have dried.

You should keep your tamariki home from school and early childhood education centres.

Other ways to stop chickenpox spreading

The chickenpox virus spreads through the air by infected people when they sneeze or cough.

  • Always cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. Use tissues and throw them away or cough or sneeze into your elbow — not your hands.
  • Always wash your hands after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.

Chickenpox can also spread through touching the blisters and then touching objects or other people.

  • Wash your hands often, especially if you are the caregiver of tamariki with chickenpox — and make sure they do the same.
  • Remind tamariki to avoid scratching the blisters.


Advise parents and caregivers that:

  • Children with chickenpox are excluded for 7 days or until all blisters form scabs and are dry.
  • Chickenpox is currently at the centre. This is especially important for children at high risk of severe disease and pregnant women if they have not had chickenpox.
  • Advise parent/caregiver to keep the child's nails short and clean to help stop the blisters getting infected.

At the Centre

  • Pay attention to hand washing for children and adults.
  • Avoid shared food (where people and children use their hands to select food). Use tongs or serve food onto plates.
  • Remove play dough and art to reduce the risk of spread.
  • Show children and discuss with staff how to cover a cough or sneeze. Coughing and sneezing into an elbow or a tissue is best.
  • Remove any toys and resources that cannot be wiped down easily i.e. soft toys, cane baskets.
  • Re-introduce hand gel for use when entering the centre. Make sure that the hand gel is appropriate for all children to use. Hand gel is only a pre-caution and does not replace hand washing.


  • Prior to starting work at an ECC it is recommended that any staff who have not previously had chickenpox or vaccinated get vaccinated to protect themselves from chickenpox. This is especially important for women who may become pregnant or people with health conditions that puts that at risk of severe disease.
  • You shouldn’t be vaccinated when you are pregnant or during the 30 days before becoming pregnant.
  • Pregnant staff who have not had chickenpox or not been vaccinated and have been in contact with someone with chickenpox need to talk to their Lead maternity carer or family doctor as soon as practicable.

The DermNet NZ website has more information and pictures that you may find useful.

You can also find more information on Chikcenpox from 

Last updated 22 May 2024.