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by Alan R

Medications for Chickenpox

The information provided here is meant to give you a general idea about each of the medications listed below. Only the most general side effects are included, so ask your healthcare provider if you need to take any special precautions. Use each of these medications as recommended by your healthcare provider, or according to the instructions provided. If you have further questions about usage or side effects, contact your healthcare provider.

Prescription Medications

  • Acyclovir (Zovirax)
  • Valacyclovir (Valtrex)
  • Famciclovir (Famvir)

Over-the-Counter Medications

  • Benadryl
  • Antipyretics
  • Tylenol
  • Feverall
  • Neopap
  • Panadol
  • Motrin
  • Ibuprin

Prescription Medications

Antiviral medications
Common name:
  • Acyclovir (Zovirax)
Acyclovir is an antiviral drug that may be recommended for patients who are at risk for moderate or severe chickenpox, such as children 12 or older or adults, especially those with any of the following:
  • Compromised immune systems
  • Skin disorders, especially eczema
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Use of corticosteroids or other immunosuppressant drugs
Acyclovir given to persons of any age may help decrease the duration and severity of chickenpox and shorten the time of contagiousness to others. It is most effective when started in the first 24 hours after onset of chickenpox. Its effectiveness decreases significantly if begun more than 72 hours after the onset of the rash.
Acyclovir can be taken orally. For adults, there is some evidence that the related drugs valacyclovir and famciclovir might be more effective. Acyclovir can be given by vein for severely sick or hospitalized patients, especially when the highest possible dosages are required.
Possible side effects include:
  • Nausea
  • Kidney problems, especially with the IV form or in dehydrated patients
  • Special precaution in those with kidney failure or using other drugs which could be harmful to kidneys
Antibiotics
Antibiotics are given in cases where the chickenpox rash has become infected by staphylococcal or streptococcal organisms. Some of these organisms may be resistant to common antibiotics, especially when infection is acquired in the hospital.
Possible side effects include:
  • Hives
  • Rash
  • Intense itching
  • Difficulty breathing
These are signs of an allergic reaction and require immediate medical attention.
Immune Globulin
Common names include:
  • Varicella-zoster immune globulin
Immune globulin is a blood product that contains antibodies to the chickenpox virus.
For prevention : It is given by injection immediately after exposure to the VZV virus (within 96 hours).
For treatment : In some patients, it can be given to help decrease the severity of chickenpox.
For prevention or treatment : It is usually only given to people who are at risk for severe complications from the disease. These include:
  • Adults
  • Newborns whose mothers have chickenpox
  • People who are immunosuppressed or very ill
  • Pregnant women
  • Some preliminary evidence suggests that immunization given immediately after exposure may also be effective in reducing a susceptible person’s risk of catching chickenpox.

Over-the-Counter Medications

Antihistamines
Common name:
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
Antihistamines are used to reduce the itch that comes from the rash. The medication can be taken orally or applied to the skin.
The most common side effect of oral antihistamines is drowsiness. Topical diphenhydramine can produce a severe allergic skin rash. It can also cause severe sedation due to absorption from injured skin. It is generally not recommended for treating chickenpox.
Antipyretics
Acetaminophen
Common names include:
  • Tylenol
  • Feverall
  • Neopap
  • Panadol
Acetaminophen is taken to control the high fever caused by chickenpox.
  • Note : Aspirin is not recommended for children or teens with a current or recent viral infection. This is because of the risk of Reye's syndrome . Ask your doctor which other medicines are safe for your child.
Ibuprofen
Common names include:
  • Motrin
  • Ibuprin
Ibuprofen is taken to control the high fever caused by chickenpox.
Note : Ibuprofen should not be given to anyone with peptic ulcer disease, kidney failure, high risk of bleeding disorder, or known hypersensitivity. Special caution should be used in people with congestive heart failure, liver or kidney disease, high blood pressure, and those on anticoagulant.

Special Considerations

Whenever you are taking a prescription medication, take the following precautions:
  • Take your medication as directed. Do not change the amount or the schedule.
  • Do not stop taking them without talking to your doctor.
  • Do not share them.
  • Ask what the results and side effects are. Report them to your doctor.
  • Some drugs can be dangerous when mixed. Talk to a doctor or pharmacist if you are taking more than one drug. This includes over-the-counter medication and herb or dietary supplements.
  • Plan ahead for refills so you don’t run out.

References

Chickenpox. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/chickenpox.html . Updated May 2010. Accessed May 30, 2013.
Chickenpox (varicella). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/chickenpox . Updated April 25, 2013. Accessed May 30, 2013.
Varicella. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us . Updated April 13, 2013. Accessed May 30, 2013.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: David Horn, MD
  • Review Date: 05/2014
  • Update Date: 05/28/2014