What is it?

Chickenpox is a viral illness. The chickenpox virus is also called varicella virus or varicella zoster virus. It is the same virus that can cause shingles, which usually occurs later in life.

It appears as a rash, and general symptoms of being unwell leading up to appearance of the rash. Further details discussed below

How does it spread?

Chickenpox is very easy to catch (it’s highly contagious). The chickenpox virus spreads through the air (by coughing and sneezing) and by direct contact with mucus, saliva or liquid from blisters. You can catch the chickenpox virus from touching clothing or other objects that have the blister liquid on them.

Infectious period

A child is infectious 1-2 days before they get the rash, until all the blisters have scabbed over and are dry. This usually takes 5-7 days (Kids Health).

Exclusion period

One week from appearance of rash, or until all blisters have formed scabs and are dry (whichever is the longest period of time).

Incubation period (time between being exposed and sickness)

10-21 days after being exposed to a person with chickenpox.


Chickenpox can often start with the following symptoms:

  • fever
  • headache
  • runny nose
  • cough
  • loss of appetite
  • feeling tired

A rash follows 1 to 2 days later. It usually starts on the face and scalp, spreads to the chest, back and tummy and then to the arms and legs. It can also appear inside the ears, on the eyelids, inside the nose and mouth, and even around the genital area. The rash continues to spread and it usually becomes very itchy.

Within a few hours after each spot appears, a blister forms. It may appear full of yellow fluid. After a day or so, the fluid turns cloudy. The blisters release liquid containing the virus, then form crusts or scabs that fall off after 1 to 2 weeks. The spots heal at different stages, some faster than others, so your child may have the rash in several different stages at once.

Some children may only get a few spots, and others may have large numbers of spots

Responsibilities of staff

Advise parents and caregivers that 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.

Responsibilities of parents

Keep Child at home for 7 days or until the blisters form scabs and are dry (whichever is the longest period of time).

For more information


Download printable factsheet

Last updated 25 July 2022.