Why is chickenpox called chickenpox? All the theories


Chickenpox is a disease most common in children (Picture: Getty)

A highly contagious disease that causes red, itchy spots all over the body is an illness many of us have dealt with – but why is it called that? And where did it come from?

Chickenpox – which you can get a vaccine for – is a common disease, more popular in children than adults, that leaves us feeling itchy, run-down, and generally unwell.

Very easily spread from one person to the next, you can catch the infection simply by being in the same room as someone with it.

But while we all commonly know the causes and symptoms of chickenpox, there’s a lot of interest as to how exactly it got its unusual name. Also, where did the infectious disease come from?

Here are all the facts and theories around the name ‘chickenpox’.

Why is it called chickenpox?


Child with chickenpox

Chickenpox is a fairly mild illness in children (Picture: Getty)

The official name for chickenpox is Varicella but unfortunately, there is no definitive answer on how it came to the name we commonly know it by today.

However, there are plenty of theories.

Firstly, many assume the name chickenpox came from the common symptom of large blisters on the body that look like chickpeas. And the ‘pox’ part is derived from the fact it’s in the smallpox family.

Another theory comes from the idea the chickenpox rash looks like a chicken itself has pecked you all over the body.

A different idea comes from way back in the 18th century when a doctor named it chickenpox because it was a milder form of smallpox, and was therefore more ‘chicken’ (cowardly).


chickenpox varicella zoster virus

Chickenpox dates back centuries according to historians (Picture: Getty)

Where did chickenpox come from?

Chickenpox has been around for centuries, in fact there’s evidence of it dating back to ancient times.

Historians believe the disease was first brought to America in the 15th century from Europe.

A lot of people connect chickenpox with smallpox, however, they are two entirely separate infections with smallpox being much more severe.

While they both cause a rash and blisters and have ‘pox’ in the name, they are quite different, with smallpox practically being extinct thanks to the creation of a vaccine 65 years ago.

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