About Chickenpox

Chickenpox is a very contagious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). It causes a blister-like rash, itching, tiredness, and fever. The rash appears first on the stomach, back and face and can spread over the entire body causing between 250 and 500 itchy blisters. Chickenpox can be serious, especially in babies, adults, and people with weakened immune systems. The best way to prevent chickenpox is to get the chickenpox vaccine.

Anyone who hasn’t had chickenpox or gotten the chickenpox vaccine can get the disease. Chickenpox illness usually lasts about 5 to7 days.

The classic symptom of chickenpox is a rash that turns into itchy, fluid-filled blisters that eventually turn into scabs. The rash may first show up on the face, chest, and back then spread to the rest of the body, including inside the mouth, eyelids, or genital area. It usually takes about one week for all the blisters to become scabs.

Other typical symptoms that may begin to appear 1-2 days before rash include:

  • fever
  • tiredness
  • loss of appetite
  • headache

Children usually miss 5 to 6 days of school or childcare due to chickenpox.

Vaccinated Persons

Some people who have been vaccinated against chickenpox can still get the disease. However, the symptoms are usually milder with fewer red spots or blisters and mild or no fever. Though uncommon, some vaccinated people who get chickenpox will develop illness as serious as chickenpox in unvaccinated persons.

People at Risk for Severe Chickenpox

Some people who get chickenpox may have more severe symptoms and may be at higher risk for complications

Complications from chickenpox can occur, but they are not common in healthy people who get the disease.

People who may get a serious case of chickenpox and may be at high risk for complications include

  • Infants
  • Adolescents
  • Adults
  • Pregnant women
  • People with weakened immune systems because of illness or medications; for example,
    • People with HIV/AIDS or cancer
    • Patients who have had transplants, and
    • People on chemotherapy, immunosuppressive medications, or long-term use of steroids.

Serious complications from chickenpox include

  • bacterial infections of the skin and soft tissues in children including Group A streptococcal infections
  • pneumonia
  • infection or inflammation of the brain (encephalitis, cerebellar ataxia)
  • bleeding problems
  • blood stream infections (sepsis)
  • dehydration

Some people with serious complications from chickenpox can become so sick that they need to be hospitalized. Chickenpox can also cause death.

Some deaths from chickenpox continue to occur in healthy, unvaccinated children and adults. Many of the healthy adults who died from chickenpox contracted the disease from their unvaccinated children.

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