Chickenpox (Varicella)

  • Medical Author:

    Sandra Gonzalez Gompf, MD, FACP is a U.S. board-certified Infectious Disease subspecialist. Dr. Gompf received a Bachelor of Science from the University of Miami, and a Medical Degree from the University of South Florida. Dr. Gompf completed residency training in Internal Medicine at the University of South Florida followed by subspecialty fellowship training there in Infectious Diseases under the directorship of Dr. John T. Sinnott, IV.

  • 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.

What are chickenpox symptoms and signs? How long does chickenpox last?

The incubation period (the time from infection to symptoms) is about 14 to 21 days after contact with the virus. Chickenpox is characterized by general weakness, fever up to 102 F, and red spots that start on the same day or so as the fever. The spots rapidly develop blisters. Rash usually starts on the head or trunk (the area where most of the rash appears) and spreads to the arms and legs. The blisters may spread to mucous membranes and produce ulcers inside the eyelids, mouth, throat, and genital area. 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) and develops in groups of new blisters even as older blisters begin to dry up. Over five to seven days, all of the blisters dry up and become crusted, and the illness is over.

Picture of chickenpox (varicella)
What does chickenpox look like?

What does chickenpox look like?

The rash of chickenpox develops in groups with raised red spots arriving first, progressing to blisters filled with clear fluid, like a drop of water on the skin. The blisters may be dimpled in the center. They may break, and reform, then finally form sores before drying up as scabs or crusts. They have been described best as grouped blisters on a red base in different stages at the same time; some areas may just be forming blisters, while another area may already be crusting over. The crusts will come off on their own.

What types of specialists treat chickenpox?

Primary-care providers usually manage most cases of chickenpox. This includes pediatricians, internal-medicine doctors, family medicine doctors, nurse practitioners, and sometimes emergency-medicine doctors. Dermatologists or infectious-disease specialists may become involved as consultants in complicated cases or cases at high risk for severe disease, such as pregnancy, adults, eczema, or immune deficiency.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/8/2016
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