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Chickenpox once was considered to be an unavoidable childhood illness, meaning everyone would get it. However, since the varicella vaccine was licensed, this disease can be prevented easily. This vaccine is approved for use in most children aged 12 months or older, and it also can be given to adolescents and adults who have no history of chickenpox. Most pediatricians and family physicians now recommend that all children be vaccinated against chickenpox at 12 to 15 months of age. The vaccine also is recommended when someone who has never had the disease or vaccine before has been exposed to someone with active chickenpox. This may help to prevent that person from getting the disease.

Some people are at high risk of serious complications from chickenpox, including people who have problems with their immune system, certain pregnant women, and premature infants. If a person at high risk is exposed to someone with chickenpox, an injection of varicella zoster immune globulin (VZIG) also may help to prevent chickenpox. VZIG contains protective antibodies against chickenpox that are taken from the blood of healthy people who have high levels of protection against the chickenpox virus. However, VZIG rarely is given unless a person at risk of serious complications has been exposed to someone with chickenpox for more than one hour.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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