Chicken pox and shingles – prevent the spread of infection

September 20, 2016   //   No Comments

Chickenpox (known medically as varicella) is an illness that is common in children under the age of 10. Chickenpox is highly infectious and spreads through direct contact and droplet infection (e.g. coughing and sneezing).  Over 90% of adults are immune to catching chickenpox because they had the illness as a child. However, the virus lies dormant in the body for many years and can be reactivated as shingles.  It is most common in those over 50 but can happen at any age.

Shingles cannot be ‘caught’ in the same way as chickenpox; you can only develop shingles if you have had chickenpox before.  Adults who have not had chickenpox in childhood can be susceptible to developing chickenpox in adulthood and, if they do, the illness is more likely to be severe and they are more likely to experience complications.

As chickenpox is so contagious, it can spread very quickly in the workplace, although as mentioned above, most adults are immune to the virus. People with chickenpox are most infectious one or two days before the rash appears, but continue to be infectious until the scabs have crusted over (usually about five or six days after symptoms begin).

People with shingles may be able to continue working, as long as they feel well and are not in too much pain, provided that they don’t work with high risk people and their blisters are covered so that no one else can come into contact with them.  Those with chickenpox should stay away from the workplace until they have been told by their doctor that they are no longer contagious.

For advice on dealing with chickenpox or shingles in the workplace, call the Fit for Work advice line on 0800 032 6235 (English) or 0800 032 6233 (Welsh).

Employees who have been off work due to sickness for four weeks or more should ask their GP or employer for a referral to Fit for Work. See fitforwork.org for more details.