Chickenpox (varicella) is a highly contagious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VSV). The disease is usually mild in children but can be severe in adults and people with impaired immune systems. LSCS students, staff, and guests who have not had chickenpox should be vaccinated against this potentially serious disease.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Texas State Department of Health and Human Services recommend that all students of higher education without a history of chickenpox receive the vaccine. Locally, you can get the varicella vaccine and other health care services from:
- Harris County Public Health & Environmental Services Clinics
- Public Clinics in the greater Houston Area (Gateway to Care)
- City of Houston Health & Human Services Health Centers
Information available in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese.
Symptoms of the disease
Chickenpox has a characteristic itchy rash, which forms blisters that dry and scab in four to five days. The rash can be the first sign of illness, sometimes accompanied by fever and tiredness. An infected individual can have skin lesions ranging from a few to hundreds of skin lesions. Complications that may require hospitalization increase with age. Adults are 10 times more likely than children to be hospitalized with severe consequences of chickenpox. These consequences may include pneumonia and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).
Transmission of the disease
Chickenpox is highly contagious. About 90 percent of individuals who have not had chickenpox will get the disease if they are exposed to an infected person. The virus can be spread from person to person through the air or by contact with fluid from chickenpox blisters. The disease remains contagious from a day or two before the rash appears until all the blisters form scabs.
Incidence of chickenpox
Chickenpox is very common in the U.S. Nearly all who has not been vaccinated contract chickenpox by adulthood. Approximately 90 percent of chickenpox cases occur in children 1 to 14 years of age, and most all will have had chickenpox by their early 20s. About four million Americans develop chickenpox annually. Approximately 11,000 have complications requiring hospitalization, with 100 people dying each year from this disease, mostly adults. Complications with the disease increase with age.
Risk for college students
Chickenpox can spread more easily in a college environment, including classrooms, libraries, and other close quarters where students spend a lot of time. This increases the likelihood for those on campus to contract the disease.
The chickenpox vaccine
The chickenpox vaccine is safe and effective -- approximately 80-90 percent effective in preventing disease. The most common side effect is soreness at the site of injection. People over age 13 require two doses at least one month apart. Most people who get vaccinated will not get chickenpox; and if they do get chickenpox, it is usually quite mild.
Some people who have had chickenpox may develop shingles later in life. Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is caused by a reactivation of the same varicella virus that causes chickenpox. Shingles is a painful infection, which may include a blistering rash and severe burning pain, tingling, or extreme sensitivity to the skin. Symptoms last about a month. Approximately one in five people in the U.S. develops shingles.
When to Return to School/Work
The CDC and Texas State Department of Health Services provide the following general guidelines to determine when one can return to work after developing chickenpox:
NOTE: Individuals who have had the chicken pox and whether they have received treatment or not, may return 10 days after the onset of symptoms and when all blisters have dried and scrabbed.
NOTE: Individuals who have had shingles and received treatment should stay away from school and work for as long as symptoms exist and with a fever is present. This could be for an extended period of time. It is highly recommended that an individual seek guidance from their health care professional or the local health department to determine when it is appropriate to return to work or school.
For more information
To learn more about chickenpox and the varicella vaccine, please talk with a health care provider or call the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) Immunization Branch at 800.252.9152 or 512.458.7284. For general information about chickenpox among college students, visit the websites of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Review carefully the Chicken Pox (Varicella) Vaccine Immunization Statements Chicken Pox (Varicella) provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).