Is chickenpox worse in adults?

The short answer: yes. 

Adults who contract chickenpox typically display more severe symptoms than those that are seen in children, which can lead to a number of further health complications. Chickenpox can also have a negative effect on your day to day life, such as work or caretaking responsibilities.

What are the health risks of chickenpox in adults?

Adults that are infected with chickenpox usually display the same symptoms as children, though these symptoms tend to be more severe. These symptoms include:

  • Red Spots: The most identifiable sign of chickenpox is the itchy and fluid-filled red spots that appear across the body. These red spots may then burst before they crust over and form scabs. New spots can appear while older spots are healing. If you scratch at these spots, they may leave permanent scars or become infected.
  • Flu-like symptoms: Feeling unwell and developing a fever is also a common symptom. In addition to feeling generally unwell, you may also experience a loss of appetite, tiredness, body aches and headaches.

These symptoms can last for 5-10 days. From 1-2 days before the rash appears you are contagious to those who have not previously been infected with chickenpox or have not been vaccinated, and you remain contagious until all of the red spots have dried out and formed scabs. It is recommended that you do not return to work, or interact with those who are vulnerable until all symptoms of chickenpox have subsided.

What are the other health complications of chickenpox?

In addition to displaying more severe symptoms, adults can also develop further health complications as a result of chickenpox, which include:

  • Bacterial infections of the skin, soft tissues, bones, joints or bloodstream (Sepsis)
  • Dehydration
  • Pneumonia
  • Encephalitis (Inflammation of the brain)
  • Joint inflammation
  • Toxic shock syndrome

These complications require immediate medical attention. If you think that you are experiencing any of these complications, get in contact with your GP as soon as possible.

Who is most at risk of chickenpox and its complications?

  • Newborns and infants whose mothers never had chickenpox or the vaccine
  • Pregnant women who haven't had chickenpox or the vaccine
  • Those who are immunosuppressed, for example those taking medication that suppresses their immune system, or those who have diseases such as HIV.
  • Elderly people

How do adults get vaccinated against chickenpox?

The chickenpox vaccination is not routinely offered by the NHS, and is only offered on the NHS to those who regularly interact with people who are especially vulnerable to chickenpox.

The chickenpox vaccination, otherwise known as a varicella vaccination, is available privately through Superdrug Health Clinics. This vaccination is available at all Superdrug Health Clinics across the UK, and is suitable for men and women who are between 1 and 65 years old. The chickenpox vaccination may also be available through other private healthcare services.


Who should not be vaccinated against chickenpox?

  • If you have had a severe allergic reaction to a previous dose of chickenpox vaccine or any ingredient of the vaccine (such as gelatin)
  • If you are ill and feverish, you should delay your vaccination until you have recovered.
  • Pregnant women should delay getting vaccinated until they are no longer pregnant. If you are pregnant and believe that you have been exposed to chickenpox, get in contact a healthcare professional as soon as possible.
  • If you are immunosuppressed, either by medication that suppresses your immune system or as a result of diseases such as HIV, then you should speak to your GP before getting vaccinated. If you are immunosuppressed and believe that you have been exposed to chickenpox, contact a healthcare professional urgently.

Are there any risks of getting vaccinated for chickenpox as an adult?

  • Shingles: Chickenpox and Shingles are caused by the same virus: the varicella-zoster virus. After becoming immune to chickenpox, either by receiving the vaccination or through being previously infected, the virus remains dormant in the roots of nerves and can reactivate later in life as shingles. However, you can also protect yourself against shingles by getting the shingles vaccination.
  • Contagiousness: The chickenpox vaccine is a live vaccine, which means that you could potentially be contagious after vaccination. It is recommended that you should stay away from those who are vulnerable to chickenpox and its complications for up to 6 weeks after being vaccinated.
  • Side effects: The side effects of the chickenpox vaccine are typically quite mild. These side effects include redness and soreness where you have received the jab, flu-like symptoms, and a mild rash. The only known serious side effect is an allergic reaction to the vaccine, which are incredibly rare. (Believed to only affect around one in a million patients who receive the vaccine.)

How can I check if I’ve already had chickenpox?

If you grew up in the UK, it’s highly likely that you have already been infected with chickenpox as a child. However, if you can’t remember whether or not you’ve already been infected with chickenpox, you can ask your GP. Your GP may have noted in your medical records that you have previously been infected with chickenpox. If this information was not recorded, then your GP can check if you have immunity with a blood test.

How can I alleviate the symptoms of chickenpox?

There are a number of home remedies that are commonly used to alleviate the symptoms of chickenpox:

  • Oatmeal baths: Soaking in a warm oatmeal bath could reduce the dryness and itchiness of your skin. The best type of oats to use for this is colloidal oatmeal, which are oats that have been ground down into a fine powder so they can be more easily absorbed into the skin.
  • Stay hydrated: Chickenpox can make you feverish, which puts you are risk of becoming dehydrated. Drinking fluids throughout the day prevents you from becoming dehydrated, which could make you feel a lot worse.
  • Don’t scratch: Resist the urge to scratch at your itchy spots, as they can become infected or leave permanent scars. One common way to help prevent this is to wear mittens to bed, which will stop you from scratching your spots in your sleep.
  • Antihistamines and pain relievers: Medications such as paracetamol may be used to reduce the discomfort caused by chickenpox. Only use oral antihistamines unless otherwise directed by a doctor, as lotions or creams may cause further irritation or complications.
  • Antiviral medications: In some cases a doctor may think it appropriate to prescribe medications such as aciclovir help to fight the infection, which will lessen the severity of your symptoms.