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My 3-year-old has had chickenpox for about 2-3 days, but a close friend has just had a baby and I want to go and help. Is it possible that I am infectious, despite not having the illness? I had it as a child, so (hopefully) can't actually get it myself. Thanks!

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Can everyone please indicate where they are getting their facts from. We should all assume if facts can't be proven then this is all hearsay as hysteria could result in publicly stating untruths. –  user4088 Mar 21 '13 at 19:52
    
@Martin Agreed. Answers should be backed up with either references or personal experience. –  Beofett Mar 22 '13 at 13:01
    
@Martin I added several sources to the existing answer. In the future, please feel free to flag for moderator attention any question that provides unreferenced claims that you are concerned about, and we'll take a look at it. Thanks! –  Beofett Mar 22 '13 at 13:27
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3 Answers 3

up vote 20 down vote accepted

You may be carrying the virus

You may not show any symptoms, but if you've had chicken pox already, you most likely have the virus in your system even without being exposed to the virus recently. This virus, the varicella-zoster virus, remains dormant in your system, and can become active later in life, causing shingles.

While shingles can't be transmitted from person to person, an active outbreak of shingles can infect someone with chicken pox, if they've never had it, or if they have a weakened immune system (such as a newborn infant).

Note that the transmission methods for chicken pox and shingles are different.

Chicken pox can be contagious before symptoms even appear, and spreads through contact with bodily fluids, or from airborne virus spread from someone who is infected and coughing and sneezing.

Shingles is spread through direct contact fluid from the rash blisters, and not through sneezing, coughing, or casual contact.

However, just because you've had chicken pox as a child doesn't mean that the only way you could possibly transmit the virus is through direct contact with a shingles rash. While most people who have had chicken pox in the past have a lifelong immunity to it, rarely some people do get chicken pox a second time. If you are one of those rare cases who get chicken pox a second time, you could be contagious without showing any symptoms (yet).

Therefore, if you know you've been exposed to the chicken pox, even if you've already had it, do not go. It simply is not worth the risk.

While frustrating that you might have to stay away and can't see the little tiny baby, it'd be terrible if you made them all ill.

I would suggest that you call the close friend and tell them.

If you are still worried, consult your family doctor or medical helpline.


Some information on breast feeding and chicken pox: http://www.netwellness.org/question.cfm/8650.htm

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When dealing with infectious diseases like this, especially ones in the immunization regimen, I would avoid seeing an infant. You may or may not carry it, but why tae the chance. +1 on this one! –  MichaelF May 16 '11 at 11:55
    
I have made some changes to this answer to incorporate reputable sources. Some of the information was changed as a result of the information I found. I also removed the part about breastfeeding passing on immunity, as I could not source that. If you can find a source for the claim, please feel free to add it back in. –  Beofett Mar 22 '13 at 13:25
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Thanks! I found an article and added the link. –  JBRWilkinson Mar 22 '13 at 21:59
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Once you've had chicken pox, it never actually leaves your body and can re-emerge years later to cause shingles. The virus that causes both chicken pox and shingles is related to the herpes virus, and like herpes it lies dormant in your nerve cells between outbreaks:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herpes_zoster

So simply having it as a child in no way means that you can't be a carrier of the active virus. Being exposed to the active virus typically won't cause an outbreak in an already-infected adult (because your immune system is quick to respond and will drive the newly acquired active virus into a dormant state) but it does mean that you can be infectious to others even though you show no symptoms yourself.

So regardless of whether you've had chickenpox before or not, if you are recently exposed to the virus from somebody with an active infection, you should consider yourself contagious and should avoid exposing others.

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I am not too sure I agree with this: surely, as a father of a new born baby, I should avoid being near her if this was the case, and both of my other children? –  Hairy May 17 '11 at 9:40
    
@Hairy only if you were exposed to someone with an active chicken pox outbreak. Bill's not claiming that someone who had chicken pox as a child is a contagion risk for having a dormant version of the virus, but rather that exposure to another person who has active chicken pox can make such a dormant carrier an active carrier temporarily, without them showing any symptoms. –  Beofett May 17 '11 at 13:36
    
@Beofett, ah, I didn't read it correctly. Fair points then. –  Hairy May 17 '11 at 13:44
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My understanding, is that a vaccinated kid might show very little symptoms (if any) but will still be infectious. So everyone is at potential risk all the time. ?

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