Chickenpox (Varicella)

  • Medical Author:
    David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP

    Dr. Perlstein received his Medical Degree from the University of Cincinnati and then completed his internship and residency in pediatrics at The New York Hospital, Cornell medical Center in New York City. After serving an additional year as Chief Pediatric Resident, he worked as a private practitioner and then was appointed Director of Ambulatory Pediatrics at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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How does chickenpox spread?

Chickenpox is very highly contagious. It is easily passed between members of families and school classmates through airborne particles, droplets in exhaled air, and fluid from the blisters or sores. It also can be transmitted indirectly by contact with articles of clothing and other items exposed to fresh drainage from open sores. Patients are contagious up to five days (more commonly, one to two days) before and five days after the date that their rash appears. When all of the sores have crusted over, the person is usually no longer contagious.

What are chickenpox symptoms and signs?

Symptoms tend to appear 14 to 16 days after the initial exposure but can occur anytime from 10 days up to 21 days after contact with the virus. Chickenpox is characterized by one to two days of mild fever up to 102 F, general weakness, and a rash, often the first sign of the disease. Rarely, a person may have the disease without the rash. The rash of chickenpox develops in crops with raised red spots arriving first, progressing to blisters that burst, forming open sores, before crusting over. This process usually starts on the scalp, then the trunk (its area of greatest concentration), and finally the arms and legs. Any area of skin that is irritated (by diaper rash, poison ivy, eczema, sunburn, etc.) is likely to be hard hit by the rash. The rash is typically very itchy (pruritic).

Picture of chickenpox (varicella)
What does chickenpox look like?
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/18/2015
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