Tommy Lloyd
Author: Tommy Lloyd, Managing Director

Tommy has over 15 years experience within the insurance industry, and his primary focus is helping travellers find the right cover for their medical conditions.

11 min read

Chickenpox and shingles are indeed common among both children and adults. However, the good news is that they are manageable infections. Despite the inconvenience, you'll be relieved to know that these conditions typically don't prevent you from travelling. With the right precautions and care, managing these infections becomes a straightforward part of your health routine, allowing you to continue with most of your plans, including travel.

While chickenpox and shingles both originate from the same culprit, the Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV), they show up in different ways and tend to impact different age groups. Chickenpox is something you'll see more among children. It's easy to spot because of those itchy, red spots that pop up all over. It's usually the first sign of bumping into VZV and, heads up, it loves to spread.

Shingles are essentially when the chickenpox virus, which has been quietly hanging out in your body, decides to wake up later in life, typically in adults over 50. Instead of showing up as chickenpox again, it comes back as a painful rash, usually sticking to one side of your body or face. While it's not as catchy as chickenpox, shingles can still pass on the chickenpox virus to someone who's never had it, giving them chickenpox instead of shingles.

Given the significant impact of these infections on one's physical health, it's crucial to carefully consider your or your child's health condition before planning a holiday abroad. Yet, there's no need for undue concern. For many, travelling for a holiday is still very much on the table, depending on your specific health scenario.

Can I Fly with Chickenpox?

Yes, you can fly with chickenpox. Of course, you can’t predict or expect an outbreak of chickenpox. In most cases, they just appear! If this happens in the days leading up to a trip that you’ve already booked and paid for, you might be left feeling rather unlucky. However, there are a few things you should do, to ensure there are no unpleasant surprises when you set off on holiday.

You must check your airline’s policy beforehand, to double-check their rules, it’s likely every airline will have a different stance on the matter - however, airlines have the right to refuse entry onboard an aircraft for unwell passengers.

In the case of chickenpox, if the skin is visibly blistered refusal is quite likely because the infection is still contagious. Many airlines operate under the principle that passengers at a contagious stage of chickenpox pose a risk to others on board. As such it would be irresponsible on their part to allow that person to come aboard.

To ensure you are safe to fly, you should consult with your GP to check the progress of your or your child's infection and obtain a /letter from your GP. An airline's usual policy is that you will be let aboard 7 days after the last of the spots have scabbed over and you have a letter of health from your GP.

READ MORE: Fit-to-Fly Certificates

When is Chickenpox Most Contagious?

Chickenpox typically reaches its peak contagiousness within the first 2 to 5 days after symptoms appear. The most obvious symptom is a red itchy rash, which looks like blisters and can appear all over your body. It is quite hard to miss! During this time, you should avoid contact, with others as much as possible.

Other symptoms include a high temperature, aches and pains (a general feeling of unwell) and loss of appetite.

People are most contagious with chickenpox a day or two before the rash appears. This means that someone can unknowingly spread the virus to others even before they know that they have it.

If this timeframe interferes with your holiday plan, the most sensible thing to do is to consult your GP right away. Your doctor is the ideal person to give you the most appropriate guidance on how you move forward with your time away.

Suppose you’ve purchased a travel insurance policy ahead of your trip, and you have holiday cancellation insurance. In that case, you may be covered for the cost of your trip if you are deemed medically unable to travel. Always check with your travel insurance provider to see what you are covered for.

READ MORE: Holiday Cancellation Insurance Cover

Plane flying during sunset

How Long Does Chickenpox Last?

The period over which chickenpox symptoms affect the body varies from case to case.

Rashes can begin to manifest on the surface of the skin within the first 48 hours of exposure to the virus, marking the initial stage of infection. Typically, it takes a period ranging from 10 days to 2 weeks for the blisters to harden and scab. In more mild cases, the symptoms may last for around 5-7 days.

The formation of scabs over these blisters is generally regarded as the key indicator that chickenpox has progressed beyond its contagious phase. However, it is important to note that in some cases, these blisters can continue to form even after the initial phase of infection has passed. This is particularly common among individuals with weakened immune systems.

Although these timeframes are broad guidelines, it’s a good idea to bear these in mind when it comes to estimating whether the symptoms can overlap with your holiday. It is always best to consult with a doctor or GP to determine the exact timeline of your chickenpox infection and when it is safe for you to travel.

Can I Fly with Shingles?

Just like chickenpox, travelling with shingles is generally acceptable provided you have clearance from your GP declaring you fit to fly, and you comply with your airline's health and safety regulations.

Shingles can often be restrictive and painful – meaning you need to think long and hard about proceeding with your travel plans as a result. So long as you feel well enough, and your GP deems that your condition has passed the most contagious stage, it should be fine to travel.

However, checking with your airline beforehand is a must. Whether that means you check online or even give them a call to discuss their policy before you turn up at the airport. The last thing you want is to get turned away at the aircraft cabin door before boarding.

How Long Am I Contagious with Shingles?

Shingles are not contagious between individuals, but the virus (VZV) that causes it can be transmitted. A person with shingles can spread the virus to another, leading to them developing chickenpox, especially if they encounter someone who has never had chickenpox before.

Just like chickenpox, those with shingles will usually develop a red, itchy, blistery, rash that usually only appears on one side of the body and in most cases, the rash is isolated to your torso. Yet, it can appear anywhere on your body. Other symptoms include high temperature, headache, and a general feeling of being unwell.

You are at your most contagious with shingles when blisters are present, and the rash is oozing fluid. Once the rash forms scabs, the likelihood of transmitting the virus to others significantly decreases. It normally takes around a week to 10 days for the scabs to dry out.

Even if you’re on holiday in a warm climate, it’s still important to keep the dried-out rash as covered as possible – not just to minimise the chances of spreading infection, but also to protect this vulnerable area of skin from any sun damage.

Bali rice fields

How Long Does it Take to Recover from Shingles?

Most people recover from shingles after about 3 weeks. It’s very rare for symptoms to persist over 5 weeks. Either way, this is still a fairly long time to be unwell – especially if you’ve got a holiday on the horizon.

It’s worth remembering that although it may take a while for the rash to clear up, the symptoms progressively get more and more manageable as time progresses. It’s still possible to travel provided your doctor gives you the green light to do so.

However, should your doctor advise that you are not fit to travel, and you have travel insurance with cancellation cover in place, you may be able to recoup the costs of your holiday, should you need to cancel.

If you are given the green light, you may want to explore the possibility of specialist shingles travel insurance too, just so that you're covered should any issues arise on your trip.

Should I Disclose my History of Chickenpox or Shingles when Applying for Travel Insurance?

When getting a quote with us we’ll ask a few short questions about your health history, including whether you visited a medical professional, or hospital within the last 2 years, which would include if it was for chickenpox or shingles.

You’ll then be able to add your condition to your quote, easily. We may ask a few follow-up questions about your treatment just so we can understand your circumstances and get a good picture of your overall health.

We’ll then show you quotes from travel insurance providers which will include cover for any health conditions you’ve told us about – that way – if your condition flares up before you go away, or causes you trouble whilst you are on holiday, you’ll be protected.

READ MORE: Declaring Your Medical Conditions Online

When you have travel insurance and get diagnosed with shingles or chickenpox, it's crucial to let your insurer know right away. This way, they're kept in the loop about your current health status. They're likely to inquire if your doctor has cleared you for travel, how your rash is doing (especially if it could still be contagious), and if you're on any meds to manage pain or discomfort.

Your insurance provider may charge you an additional premium, however, by declaring your conditions, you are ensuring you are insured correctly. The last thing you want is for a claim to be declined, as you have not informed them of a change in your health.

Navigating travel plans while dealing with chickenpox or shingles can be stressful, but with proper precautions and the right information, it doesn’t have to derail your plans. Always consult with your GP to understand your condition's contagious stage and get a clear health clearance before you travel.

Remember to check your airline's health policies to keep airport surprises at bay. Most crucially, ensure your travel insurance offers ample coverage for any health concerns, including chickenpox and shingles. This way, you can travel with peace of mind, knowing you’re prepared for the unexpected. 

With these steps, your travels can be seamless and stress-free, protecting both your health and holiday enjoyment. The key to a smooth journey is preparation and staying informed, ensuring you can handle any health surprises with ease.


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