The development of chickenpox can be traced to 17th century Europe. Along with a number of other contagions, it migrated to the Western Hemisphere in what has been called the Columbian Exchange.
Richard Morton, an English doctor, is credited with developing the name "chickenpox" in the 1600s to describe an airborne disease that primarily affects children,although chickenpox is related to the adult illness known as shingles, that begins with itchy skin legions. Morton thought the illness was a mild form of smallpox.
The illness itself was known far before it received its recognized name. As trade and travel began in the 15th century between Europe and the Americas, produce, livestock and diseases were transported across the seas. Smallpox, chickenpox, the flu, malaria and other illnesses became known as Old World diseases because they did not exist in the Americas. Conversely, illnesses such as syphilis, polio and hepatitis were unknown in Europe. The inhabitants of the New World did not have the antibodies to fight off illnesses known to Old World citizens and vice versa. As a result, European settlers, travelers and American Native populations suffered as germs were passed between populations. Epidemics in various communities resulted in numerous deaths.