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Antiviral medicines can be taken by mouth (orally), given by injection into a vein (intravenous, or IV), or applied on the skin (topically). Acyclovir is the antiviral medicine used most often to treat chickenpox (varicella). But other antivirals may be used.
Antiviral eye ointments are also available. They can be used on your eyes to treat chickenpox blisters.
Antiviral medicines may be prescribed if a person has been exposed to chickenpox and can't get the chickenpox vaccine or antibodies to help prevent chickenpox.
These medicines may also be used to help treat chickenpox.
Antiviral medicines are generally given to people who are more likely to become seriously ill or develop complications from chickenpox, such as:
These medicines are usually NOT recommended for:
Antiviral medicines can help protect family members of a person with chickenpox from getting chickenpox. But they aren't used regularly if a person's symptoms are not severe or the illness is not causing problems for the family.
Antiviral medicines may shorten the length of illness from chickenpox, cause fewer blisters to form, and help blisters heal faster. They work best if taken right after the first signs of chickenpox rash appear.
It is not known whether antiviral medicines reduce the chance of developing complications of chickenpox. Antiviral medicines may reduce the complications of chickenpox, such as varicella pneumonia, in people with impaired immune systems.
Antiviral medicines have few side effects. They include:
The effect of antiviral medicines on pregnant women and their fetuses is not known.
The effect of antiviral medicines on immunity to chickenpox is not known.
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)
Consider the following when deciding whether to treat a family member with antiviral medicines:
Acyclovir (Zovirax) is the most prescribed antiviral medicine. It has fewer side effects than the other antiviral medicines. But it does not reduce itching, nor does it stop the spread of the chickenpox virus from one person to another.
Last Revised: May 26, 2012
Author: Healthwise Staff
This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.