ZocdocAnswersCan I catch chicken pox from my daughter if I've never had it before?

Question

Can I catch chicken pox from my daughter if I've never had it before?

Do adults get the chicken pox? My daughter has it and I've never had it. I'm worried that caring for her will end up giving it to me, and then we're both sick. Should I do something to make sure I don't get it?

Answer

Chickenpox is caused by a virus called varicella-zoster (VZV). It causes two separate diseases: varicella, typically called chickenpox, and herpes-zoster, typically called shingles. In the time before the chickenpox vaccine was commonly used, over 90% of people had evidence of having had VZV by the time they were twenty years old. Primary or first infection results in the disease of chickenpox, but even after the chickenpox goes away the virus stays in the nerve cells of the body. Later it can reactivate and cause the disease of shingles, which typically occurs in the elderly. Whereas chickenpox in children is usually a mild, though frustrating illness, in adults it can be more severe and associated with more complications such as pneumonia, skin infections, or neurologic problems. Unfortunately, VZV is very contagious and if someone in your home has it now the chance that you may have already contracted it is significant. The most basic prevention measures such as handwashing after caring for your daughter, not sharing food or eating utensils, and limiting direct contact as much as possible are key. In hospitals, people caring for individuals with VZV wear special gowns, gloves, and masks, though the feasibility of doing this at home is unlikely. Perhaps the most important step going forward if you do not contract chickenpox from your daughter now is to get vaccinated. Unfortunately, getting the vaccine now will not likely decrease your chances of contracting VZV from your daughter. You should talk with you primary care provider more about your options and treatment possibilites. Good luck!

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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