Information following potential recent exposure to chickenpox in the Emergency Department (ED) Wellington Hospital.

On 5 November afternoon one of the people in the ED department was infectious with chicken pox. Visitors and patients in the ED waiting room at the same time as them may be at risk of getting chicken pox. Chicken pox is easily spread — if you are not immune you may be at risk of coming down with chicken pox between 15–26 November.

This is courtesy information as chicken pox is not a notifiable disease.

What is immunity to chicken pox? (Immunity means you won’t get chicken pox)

You are immune to chicken pox if:

  • you have already had chicken pox, or shingles, or
  • you have had the chickenpox vaccine, or  
  • you have had close (family) contact with a sibling or a child with chicken pox, or
  • you have a blood test showing antibodies to chicken pox

If you have immunity to chicken pox you do not have to worry or do anything.

If you are not immune to chicken pox (adult /child over 1 year)

Please get yourself tested and vaccinated for chicken pox at your GP, before Thursday 10 November if possible. You may not visit the hospital between the 15–26 November, if not vaccinated/immune. Please inform Wellington Hospital of this exposure if you are readmitted to the hospital.

If you are not immune to chicken pox and pregnant.

Please immediately contact your GP.

If you are immune compromised.

Please immediately contact your GP.

Please be on the lookout for chicken pox blisters and inform your doctor immediately.

What does chickenpox look like?

A child or adult with chickenpox may develop hundreds of itchy, fluid-filled blisters that burst and form crusts.

How is it spread?

Chickenpox is a virus and can be spread very easily to others. You may get chickenpox from touching the fluids from a chickenpox blister, or if someone with chickenpox coughs or sneezes near you. The vaccine usually prevents the chickenpox disease completely or makes the illness very mild. Even those with mild illness may be contagious.

When someone becomes infected, the fluid filled blisters usually appear 10 to 21 days later. People become contagious 1 to 2 days before breaking out with fluid filled blisters.

What are the symptoms?

Most infected people with chickenpox have symptoms such as fever, headache, tummy ache, or loss of appetite for a day or two before breaking out in the classic pox rash. These symptoms last 2 to 4 days after the blisters start to break out.  The blisters often appear first on the face, trunk, or scalp and spread from there. Appearance of the small blisters on the scalp usually confirms the diagnosis.

After a day or two, the blisters become cloudy and then scab. Meanwhile, new crops of blisters spring up in groups.

Most pox will not leave scars unless they become infected with bacteria from scratching.

What do I do if I think I have chickenpox?

If you or your partner/spouse/child develop symptoms of chickenpox stay home and ring your GP.  

Chickenpox is usually diagnosed from the classic rash and history of exposure to the disease. Swab of pox blisters themselves can confirm the diagnosis but ate seldom necessary.

What is the treatment for chickenpox?

In most cases, it is enough to keep the person comfortable while their own bodies fight the illness. Oatmeal baths in lukewarm water provide a crusty, comforting coating on the skin. An oral antihistamine can help to ease the itching, as can topical lotions. Trim the fingernails short to reduce secondary infections and scarring.

If you have any concerns about this exposure to chicken pox, please contact your GP.

Last updated 8 November 2022.