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Chickenpox (Varicella) (cont.)

Medications

Most people can get the chickenpox shot (vaccine) to help prevent chickenpox. The shot doesn't fully protect you right away. But you'll become immune to the virus with a little time.

Antiviral medicines may be an option after you start to have symptoms of chickenpox. These medicines do not prevent or cure chickenpox, but they can help shorten its course and make it milder.

Immunoglobulins can be given to help protect you from getting chickenpox after you have been exposed to it. But these medicines can give only short-term protection (up to 3 months).

After you have symptoms of chickenpox, you can use oral over-the-counter medicines to help relieve discomfort. Check with your child's doctor before giving medicine to your child.

Medication Choices

Vaccination to prevent chickenpox

To prevent chickenpox, most people can get the chickenpox vaccineClick here to view a form.(What is a PDF document?). Two doses are needed before exposure to the virus.

If you are exposed to chickenpox and you get the vaccine within 72 hours (3 days), you may not get sick or your illness may be mild. If you can't get the shot within 3 days, getting it up to 120 hours (5 days) after exposure may still help.2 Some people can't get the chickenpox vaccine, including women who are pregnant and people who have ever had a serious allergic reaction to gelatin or the drug neomycin.

Medicines to help reduce the severity of chickenpox

  • Antiviral medicines, such as acyclovir. Antiviral medicine is usually used to treat adults and people who have impaired immune systems. Healthy children usually don't need this medicine when they have chickenpox. It is not known whether antiviral medicines reduce a person's chances of having complications of chickenpox.
  • Immunoglobulins (IG). Immunoglobulins help the body's immune system recognize and destroy harmful bacteria and viruses in the body, such as the varicella virus. To prevent infections, IG can be given to pregnant women or people who have certain immune system deficiencies. Immunoglobulin is usually taken from the blood of people recovering from an illness. The protection provided by an IG injection lasts about 3 months. IG for chickenpox must be given before a rash appears.

Medicines to relieve pain and discomfort from chickenpox

  • Acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen (such as Advil) to control pain and fever. Follow the package instructions carefully. If you give medicine to your baby, follow your doctor's advice about what amount to give. People over age 20 also can take aspirin to reduce fever. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20 because of the risk of Reye syndrome.
  • Oral antihistamines to relieve itching, such as Benadryl or Vistaril. Talk to your doctor before using any antihistamine lotions or creams on yourself or your child. And check with your child's doctor before giving antihistamine pills to your child.

What to Think About

Vaccinations to prevent chickenpox help you or your child avoid an illness that causes discomfort, missed work or school, and possibly complications.

In rare cases, you or your child will get a mild rash after having the chickenpox vaccine. If this occurs, it is best to stay away from other people who have not had chickenpox or the vaccine. When the rash is gone and all blisters have dried and crusted over, you are no longer potentially contagious.

When you use medicines to treat symptoms of chickenpox, follow instructions carefully. It is especially important to use care when giving prescription and nonprescription medicines to newborns and small children. If you need to, you can use soothing, non-antihistamine lotions (such as calamine or Aveeno). But talk to your doctor before using any other skin products for itching.

Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to you or your child if you develop a skin infection from chickenpox blisters.

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