Passing the Chicken Pox Around???

Updated on November 24, 2009
C.S. asks from Crescent City, CA
10 answers

My daughter has been exposed to Chicken Pox twice in the last 2 weeks (darn those birthday parties!). I am not concerned about her so much, as she has been vaccinated against them and she is not showing any signs or symptoms. My concern is whether she can pass the virus around after being exposed? We are visiting friends later this week in another town and I dont want to expose their children...Does anyone know if you can be a "carrier" of the virus without actually suffering from the virus???

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answers from Seattle on

Are the other kids vaccinated? If not and the parents don't plan on vaccinating them then they need to get the chicken pox as children because it is a very serious and deadly disease for adults.

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answers from Seattle on

The EASIEST answer as to whether or not she can pass the virus on after being exposed is YES.

((Technically that doesn't mean that she's a "carrier", but is carrying/contagious (medical-ese semantics). A carrier is someone who ALWAYS has the microbe in their system and is unaffected by it. A person can be a carrier of anything, including chicken-pox. The two most common are staph and strep -80% of hospital workers are carriers of one or the other. But a person can be a carrier of TB/ Plague/ Pertussis/ Diptheria/ anything contagious.)) There's a slightly longer explanation as to the probability though:

Here's a super short, down and dirty, rundown on how contagions work with and without antibodies:

1) Person is exposed to contagious illness
a) Person contracts contagion
b) Person does NOT contract contagion.

If it's b... it stops right there, they can't pass it on because they don't have it, and similarly, can't get sick because they don't have it... if it's a >>>

2) Person has contracted contagious illness
a) Person has antibodies that work on this contagion
b) Person does NOT have antibodies that work on this contagion
c) ((this is the pesky one)) Person DOES have antibodies, but there is some flaw in the antibody ... usually because the "master key/blueprint" for that antibody that is kept in the lymphatic system has degraded, become damaged, or has gotten "lost"/"destroyed" by the "librarian"

This is where things split:

a) Person has antibodies that work on this contagion =

If their immune system is healthy, as soon as the contagion is recognized by the immune system (I.S. from now on) the I.S. goes into overdrive producing antibodies specific to that invader. The problem is USUALLY dealt with within a matter of hours to a day or two. The person never/rarely "feels" sick, as the microbes are dealt with before symptoms present... although people (especially children & athletes, who are burning through/demanding tons of energy and fuel for growth &/or activity) usually feel tired, or act short tempered/cranky. During the period it takes the I.S. to recognize/tag/go into production... a single microbe can multiple into tens or hundreds of thousands of microbes. It takes a certain number of microbes for a person to feel sick. The amount of time it takes an illness to breed up to critical mass is called "incubation period".

If we already have a specific antibody to the illness, then the microbe doesn't get to finish it's incubation period, aka we don't "get sick" although we ARE infected. If it takes a couple of days the person IS contagious to others (because the microbe has bred enough to start "shedding" when that person breathes/touches stuff/etc. There is ALWAYS a window of non-contamination. For EXTREMELY virulent microbes (like ebola) that window is tiny. An hour or so. For most you've got 12-72 hours. That's on a 24hr to 6 day incubation period.

b) Person does NOT have antibodies that work on this contagion

This starts out the same as for a person with antibodies. The difference being the elapsed time it take the I.S. to start production of the antibody. The I.S. has to create an antibody blueprint, similar to a master key. It sends it to production (in our bones and thymus), and saves a copy in our lymphatic system for next time. The MUCH longer time it takes this process means that critical mass is reached and we "feel" sick. Our I.S. usually has working antibodies in our system within a day or two... but the ratio >> 1 antibody:1 microbe means that our bodies have to produce antibodies faster than the microbe can breed (why ebola is so deadly, it breeds too quickly, we can't keep up). Not only do we have to produce them faster than the microbes, who are breeding exponentially... but we have to CATCH UP. If we have the antibody already there is very little catch-up to play. It's just production time. As with a person WITH antibodies a person WITHOUT antibodies is contagious during the incubation period. They're just also contagious when they're sick, too.

c) Person DOES have antibodies, but there is some flaw in the antibody ... usually because the "master key/blueprint" for that antibody that is kept in the lymphatic system has degraded, become damaged, or has gotten "lost"/"destroyed" by the "librarian"

This is easy for me to type, because it's the same as example B. If the blueprint has been damaged or lost, the body has to create a new one... just like if the body didn't have one at all.

((The way immunizations work is that we're injected with dead microbes. Our immune systems still have to do all work to recognize/tag/produce - make antibodies/ store the blueprint, just like in the case of ACTUALLY getting sick, the I.S. just doesn't have to deal with them breeding. At least, not usually. Occasionally a live microbe will slip through ... which is when someone gets sick from an immunization. It's also why getting sick from an immunization is usually "milder"... because our bodies have a head start on production, so it's killed off all the live microbes days in advance of when it otherwise would have)).

So... like I said... YES it's possible for her (or anyone) who has been exposed (and been infected) to pass on the contagion during the incubation period.

To get a really definitive answer though, on how LIKELY it would be for her to, you assume that she was infected (but immunized, so will not show signs of illness)... you would need to look up the incubation period for chicken pox (or any other illness) & count the days backward (I always add an extra day for good measure)... and voila.

Obviously, this is one of the shortest rundowns in history. People spend their entire lives studying immunology. There are multiple doctorates possible in that field. But it's the basics.

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answers from Seattle on

You can check out the CDC website about the Varicella Vaccine, even a vaccinated person can catch chickenpox and transmit it, but it is very rare, with only a couple of cases ever been reported. Transmission usually only occurs when there are lesions present in the vaccinated person.

Unless you friend has a newborn or someone that is seriously ill in their family, it is pretty safe. To be completely sure talk to your friend and tell her about the exposure, that way she can make an informed decision.

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answers from Anchorage on

The greatest danger in young children passing chickenpox around is that they might expose a woman in early pregnancy thereby risking abnormalities in the baby. If you think your child might be coming down with chickenpox, you should make sure that any children being exposed do not have a woman in their lives that are or might be pregnant. Anyone who has had chickenpox should consider getting vaccinated against shingles after the age of 50. It can be extremely painful and lead to other complications.

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answers from Portland on

I agree with Catie. I haven't gotten my kids vaccinated for anything, and if and when I do, I don't plan on getting them vaccinated for chicken pox. So I will want to expose them at some point and get it over with.

My mom had chicken pox as a senior in high school. It was the worst two weeks of her life, as far as physical misery is concerned. A friend of mine got chicken pox as a young adult and read the book of Job in the Bible for comfort! Point being, if you're not going to vaccinate, get it as a child!

If I were you, I would call your friend that you're going to visit and ask if they have vaccinated their kids or if not, would they mind being exposed? Also check the incubation period like the other lady suggested. Then let the other mother decide. Chicken pox is probably one of the least of illnesses that kids could get. I had it as a kid, and I barely remember it. All I remember is my mom putting pink ointment (calomine lotion, I think) on all the spots. And trying not to scratch. I was pretty young.



answers from Portland on

In my 66 years of living which included 20 or so years of being involved with children in a professional way I have never heard of a child being a "carrier" of the chicken pox virus. Yes, a vaccinated child can get chicken pox and then could expose others to the virus. But if the child is symptom free, meaning that they do not have chicken pox themselves, they cannot give the illness to someone else.

Once someone has chicken pox the virus does live in their system and can cause shingles at a later time. Shingles are not contagious. One must have chicken pox first before they are susceptible to shingles many, many years later when their immune system is down.

My mother had chicken pox as a child and the contracted shingles a few months after open heart surgery. I had chicken pox as a child and have not had shingles thus far even tho I cared for my mother while she was ill with shingles.

I agree with Ina. Check with the Center for Disease Control if you're concerned. It is rare for a vaccinated child to then contract chicken pox.



answers from Portland on

Vaccines don't carry a guarantee that they will work, not only can your child still get the chicken pox, but she can be a carrier for a little while. If she is showing no signs of fever or or illness, she's probably fine and not fighting off any contagion, so I wouldn't worry about it.

Now as she gets older and she has a high risk of getting the shingles from the chicken pox vaccine, please beware that the shingles are contagious and will give other children the chicken pox if they haven't had them yet. So when she is suffering from the shingles, keep her home until the outbreak is over and the pain is gone and there is no signs of fever.

One note about chicken pox, they are most contagious during the early stages, when the child has a fever right before the rash comes out. After a day or two they are no longer contagious, that is why so many chicken pox parties fail when parents try to get their children exposed. You need your child exposed very early. So depending on when these other children got sick, yours may or may not even be a carrier even though she was around children that have come down with the chicken pox.

Hope that helps!


answers from Eugene on

I don't know about chicken pox being carried simply by exposure when you have been vaccinated, although I know you can get polio drinking from the same glass as a child who has been vaccinated recently. No one knows really how long vaccinations last.
Chicken pox is a mild disease without serious complications if the child is cared for and kept at home for the portion with fever. It is usually gone in a couple of days and the scabs are not contagious.
I stopped vaccinating my children when I nearly lost my first child to the shock she went into a couple of hours after the vaccination for measles.
Vaccinations for whooping cough have been known to make children epileptic.
Teenagers whose vaccinations wear off have gotten chicken pox, measles and mumps. More serious in their teens than as pre-schoolers or in the early grades.
There is lots of information online and in books about whether one should or should not vaccinate.


answers from Seattle on

I am not sure but I do know my daughter got chicken pox anyway ,even after the vaccine! It was a milder case but still kept her out of school, miserable and itchy.


answers from Salt Lake City on

Yes, she can carry the virus. In fact, even if you have already had chicken pox and you are exposed you can pass it along. Also--some adults who get exposed can break out with shingles... Be careful.

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