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How to Recognise the Signs and Symptoms of Chickenpox

Updated on October 21, 2012

It is generally children who get chickenpox, and it is important for you to recognise the signs and symptoms of chickenpox should your child catch it.

Chickenpox is highly infectious but has minimal complications and as childhood illnesses go, this one isn't so bad.

It is much more serious however, if you are an adult.

There are more possible complications and it is positively dangerous for the health of the unborn child if a pregnant woman contracts chickenpox, which is caused by the virus varicella zoster, one of the herpes group.

Most children will have had chickenpox by the time they reach the age of 10.

Contact your doctor if your newborn baby comes in contact with anyone suffering from chickenpox.

chickenpox rash
chickenpox rash
chickenpox blisters
chickenpox blisters

Chickenpox is highly infectious, and the person with chickenpox become infectious to others from 1 or 2 days before the pox spots appear and will continue to be infectious, and therefore dangerous to others, until the last spot has scabbed over.

It is vitally important that a child, in the second week of having chickenpox after the itching has died down and they are feeling better, is not allowed out to play and does not return to school until all the spots have scabbed over. Even having just one blister-filled spot left means he is still infectious.

Signs and Symptoms of Chickenpox

Chickenpox has an incubation period of 10 -21 days after contact with an infected person.

Chickenpox starts with mild flu-like symptoms including:

  • nausea
  • fever (up to 100F)
  • aching muscles
  • headache
  • loss of appetite
  • feeling unwell

The symptoms are more severe in adults.

Chickenpox Rash

Shortly after the initial symptoms appear, a rash will develop. They occasionally cover the whole body, or appear in crops covering the:

  • face
  • behind the ears
  • under the arms
  • on the chest and stomach
  • on the scalp
  • on the arms and legs

The spots start off as little red dots but soon blister and become extremely itchy. It is important not to scratch them, as they can introduce infection which will leave lasting scars.

Scratch mitts can be worn to stop scratching while asleep, and calamine or other soothing lotion can be applied to the body to cool and soothe the skin.

It takes 12 - 14 hours for the spots to become fluid-filled blisters, and 1 - 4 days for them to crust over and dry out. New crops of spots can keep appearing in the first 5 days or so, but within 2 weeks of the outset, all should be healed over.

Treatment of Chickenpox

As chickenpox is a virus there is not known treatment, except palliative measures to relieve the itch and painkillers like ibuprofen and paracetamol which can help reduce pain and fever.

Under no circumstance should aspirin be used. Aspirin has been associated with Reye's syndrome when given to children with chickenpox or flu.

Frequent baths can be given to help relieve the itch, perhaps with the addition of ground oatmeal or baking soda.

If the itching is severe, antihistamines may help.

New antiviral drugs may be given to people who are high risk of complications of chickenpox, including adults, newborns and those with immune system deficiencies, but this treatment MUST be started within 24 hours of the rash first appearing in order to be effective.

Why you Should Immunize against Chickenpox

Complications of Chickenpox

There are few complication in otherwise healthy children.

Those most at risk of developing complications of chickenpox:

  • Pregnant women - the baby is at risk of congenital infection, abnormalities, miscarriage or stillbirth.
  • Newborns - unless their mother has had chickenpox at an earlier date and passed on her protection to the baby, the baby is at severe risk of complications.
  • Adults
  • Those with weakened immune systems.

A small number of people have complications and those include:

  • encephalitis - infection of the brain
  • hepatitis - infection of the liver
  • Reye's Disease - in those that take aspirin
  • skin infections
  • pneumonia - lung infection
  • myocarditis - heart infection
  • transient arthritis

Chickenpox Parties V the Vaccine

Prevention of Chickenpox

There is a vaccine available.

  • Children receive two doses of the traditional chickenpox vaccine. They should be given the first dose when they are 12 - 15 months old. Children should receive the second dose when they are 4 - 6 years old.
  • People aged 13 and older who have not received the vaccine and have not had chickenpox should get two doses, 4 - 8 weeks apart.

The vaccine will not stop your child getting chickenpox if it is on the go, but it should make sure that your child only has a mild infection.

Neither having the vaccine, nor indeed the chickenpox infection itself, will prevent a re-infection of the virus as an adult.

This is called shingles and has completely different symptoms, some of which are very unpleasant indeed.


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    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 

      7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Memories. Had them...

      Thanks for sharing!

      Flag up!

    • Nan Mynatt profile image

      Nan Mynatt 

      7 years ago from Illinois

      Good pictures, chickenpox is painful and you are very sick when get the disease.

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from UK

      No, it doesn't. You can still catch shingles even though you've been immunized against chickenpox. No that little girl up there looks as if she has been scratching a lot, the poor wee thing, but in most kids the rash isn't as widespread or as angry looking.

    • profile image

      Sophia Angelique 

      7 years ago

      I did NOT look like that. Yes, I had blistered and those I scratched did cause scars. And, yes, I was told not to scratch because otherwise it would cause scars, but I'm sure that they weren't all red!!!!

      In my youth, my mother purposely let us get things like chicken pox and measles because it was thought that it developed a natural immunity afterwards, and it was much worse if one got it when one was older. Of course, now we now, one gets shingles from chicken pox when one gets older... Does immunization help against shingles?

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from UK

      The vaccine is new - it definitely wasn't around when my kids were small. But when you see that video up there, it makes you realise just how horrible the complications can be, if they set in.

    • profile image

      Helpful Hanna 

      7 years ago

      This is such useful information. Thanks!


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