Varicella-zoster virus, a herpesvirus, causes varicella (chickenpox) and, after endogenous reactivation, herpes zoster (shingles). Varicella, which is recognised by a characteristic vesicular rash, arises mainly in young children, although older individuals can be affected. In immunocompetent patients, symptoms are usually mild to moderate, but an uncomplicated severe case can have more than 1000 lesions and severe constitutional symptoms. Serious complications--including central nervous system involvement, pneumonia, secondary bacterial infections, and death--are sometimes seen. Varicella can be prevented by vaccination. Vaccine is about 80-85% effective against all disease and highly (more than 95%) effective in prevention of severe disease. In the USA, a routine childhood immunisation programme has reduced disease incidence, complications, hospital admissions, and deaths in children and in the general population, indicating strong herd immunity. Similar immunisation programmes have been adopted by some other countries, including Uruguay, Germany, Taiwan, Canada, and Australia, and are expected to be implemented more widely in future.