Background: We conducted this study to determine the im pact of chicken pox on two different ethnic populations in southern Israel: Jews and Bedouins. Methods: Hospital records of 113 patients discharged from the Soroka Medical Center with the diagnosis of varicella during a 4.5-year period were reviewed. Results: Mean age was 9.2 years and the average hospital stay was 5.4 days. Bacterial skin or soft tissue infections were the most common complications (30%), followed by pneumonia (17%) and central nervous system complications (11.5%). There were no fatal cases throughout the study period. The calculated hospitalization rate for varicella was one in every 319 cases. Major differences between Jews and Bedouins included an older mean age of Bedouin patients (13.9 years versus 4.5 years); higher hospitalization rate (relative risk [R.R.]: 2.8, 95% confidence interval: 1.9-4.2), and higher risk for complicated varicella (R.R.: 2.1, 95% confidence interval: 1.3-3.4). Conclusion: Hospitalization of patients with varicella in southern Israel is common and varicella infection in Bedouins is associated with greater morbidity compared with that in Jews in southern Israel.