Critical Concepts | Specialties

Everything You Need to Know About Varicella

  • Have you heard of varicella? 
  • Varicella is chronic viral infection that can be prevented from vaccines. 
  • Learn all about varicella this National Immunization Awareness Month!

Sadia Arshad


August 16, 2022
Simmons University

What Is Varicella?

August in National Immunization Awareness Month. As part of this month, let’s dive into the world of varicella, also known as chickenpox, a viral infection that was once a global health concern.  

Now, because of massive vaccination efforts, varicella rates have dropped significantly.

Varicella is an infection that occurs when someone is exposed to the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). When this virus enters the body, VZV can initially appear as a rash. Varicella earned its other name chickenpox since people can often get rashes and blisters all over their body during an active infection.  

It is important to note that this virus has existed for centuries and has infected millions of people. If left untreated, varicella can lead to deadly complications and a potential risk for shingles later in life.  

In 1995, the varicella vaccine became widespread and available in America. Since its release, chickenpox rates in America and around the world have decreased. However, with a growing population hesitant towards vaccines, nurses and other health care professionals need to be aware of this serious infection. 

varicella viral infection

How Does One Get Exposed to Varicella?

Prior to massive vaccination campaigns, varicella was extremely common since it can be transmitted in many ways. Specifically, varicella can be transmitted through the air, direct contact with varicella blisters, saliva, and mucus.

Places with high levels of social proximity, such as schools and health care facilities, were at much higher risk for chickenpox outbreaks prior to vaccination efforts. 

Common infection prevention practices include good handwashing techniques, not touching visible blisters, wearing a mask, and getting the corresponding vaccination series.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Varicella?

  • Fever 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Fatigue 
  • Headache 
  • Malaise 
  • Blisters 

How is Varicella Diagnosed and Treated?

Unfortunately, there is no cure, as it is a lifelong viral infection. Varicella can be diagnosed via skin lesion examination or blood test. There can be some antiviral medications that can alleviate varicella symptoms as well. 

The best way to prevent  infection is with the vaccine.

varicella vaccine

How Can I Learn About the Vaccine?

Because of the dangers associated with varicella, there are several vaccine options to prevent this infection. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is a two-dose varicella vaccination schedule for people of all ages. 

As nurses, we are exposed to several types of infections in our work. It is important to make sure you are up to date with your vaccines and to educate your patients on vaccines as appropriate. 

Because immunity varies among people, there are people who have received a two dose vaccination series or been exposed to varicella and still do not have immunity to the infection. The best way to determine if you have immunity to it is with a blood test.

What Can I Do to Raise Awareness About Varicella?

August is National Immunization Awareness Month, and varicella is one of the most common infections prevented by immunizations. Often, there can be mixed messages people see on social media and from their community members regarding vaccines. 

Discussing vaccines is a sensitive topic for many patients. 

It is crucial for nurses to recognize that there are several reasons why someone would not want a vaccine. There are people who have had negative experiences with the health care system, people with cultural differences, people who have religious beliefs, or people who certain medical conditions.  

Nurses are the most trusted profession for a reason. Patients often turn to nurses for medical information since there can be so many uncertainties about health care, medication, and more. 

Some ways you can raise awareness about the varicella vaccine and other vaccines include: 

  • Providing educational materials 
  • Addressing any concerns patients have about vaccines 
  • Offering immunizations during that visit 
  • Reviewing patients’ immunization records 
  • Educating patients on immunizations during each encounter 
  • Discussing with nursing management on any immunization efforts at your workplace for both patients and staff

varicella immunization

The Bottom Line

Vaccines are a public health milestone and have saved the lives of millions of people. There are several groups of people, such as newborns, pregnant women, and immunocompromised people, for which varicella can be life-endangering. 

If you are concerned about varicella, vaccines, and public health, I would encourage you to look into the Association of Public Health Nurses or the American Nurses Association 

You can also learn about the significant contributions of immunizations by reading the American Journal of Preventive Medicine or the Journal of Issues in Nursing. 

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