Understanding Chickenpox -- Symptoms

What Are the Symptoms of Chickenpox?

Chickenpox appears as a very itchy rash that spreads from the torso to the neck, face, and limbs. Lasting seven to 10 days, the rash progresses from red bumps to fluid-filled blisters (vesicles) that drain and scab over. Vesicles may also appear in the mouth, on the scalp, around the eyes, or on the genitals and can be very itchy.

This cycle repeats itself in new areas of the body until finally, after about two weeks, all of the sores have healed. The disease is contagious until all the pox have dried up and there are no new pox for one day. Unfortunately, the virus is also contagious for at least one day before the rash breaks out.

In children who have been vaccinated with one dose of the varicella vaccine, a shortened, milder version of chickenpox lasting three to five days may occur with less than 30 total pox breaking out. This rash can still be contagious to people with compromised immune systems. Currently, two doses of varicella vaccine are recommended for most people, which has eliminated most cases of chickenpox, even mild disease.

Call Your Doctor About Chickenpox if:

  • You think your child has chickenpox; a doctor can confirm the diagnosis.
  • Chickenpox is accompanied by severe skin pain and the rash produces a greenish-yellowish discharge -- signs of a secondary bacterial skin infection.
  • Chickenpox is accompanied by a stiff neck, persistent sleepiness, or lethargy -- symptoms of a more serious illness such as meningitis or encephalitis. Get medical help immediately.
  • Your child is recovering from chickenpox and begins running a fever, vomiting, having convulsions, or is drowsy. These are signs of Reye's syndrome, a dangerous, potentially fatal disease that sometimes follows viral infections, particularly if aspirin has been used in treatment. Get medical help immediately.
  • An adult family member gets chickenpox. In adults, the illness can lead to complications such as pneumonia. See your doctor without delay.
  • You are pregnant, have never had chickenpox, and are exposed to the disease; your unborn child may be at risk for birth defects. See your doctor without delay.


WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 19, 2017



World Health Organization.  

March of Dimes.  

Centers for Disease Control. 

Cohen & Powderly: Infectious Diseases, Elsevier, 2nd ed., 2004.

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