Chickenpox (Varicella) - What Happens
The first weeks after catching the virus
About 14 to 16 days after
contact with a person infected with the virus, the first symptoms of
chickenpox usually develop. Most people feel sick and have a fever, a decreased appetite,
a headache, a cough, and a sore throat.
- Some children get the
chickenpox rash without first having the early
- Babies 6 months old and younger may have some protection
against chickenpox from
antibodies passed on by their mothers. So if they are
infected with the virus, they may not have many symptoms.
weak immune systems may get the first symptoms
of chickenpox sooner than the usual 10 to 14 days after exposure.
Chickenpox is most contagious from 2 to 3 days before the
rash appears until all the blisters have crusted over.
The chickenpox rash
The chickenpox rash usually appears on the upper body about 1
or 2 days after the first symptoms start. The trunk usually is most affected,
and the arms and legs the least. The rash also may spread to the scalp, face, nose,
and mouth. In rare cases, it spreads into the eyelid lining (conjunctiva), into
the clear covering over the eye (cornea), inside the throat, or into the
It takes about 1 or 2 days for a chickenpox red spot
(macule) to go through all its stages:
- Red or swollen spots or bumps appear and turn into blisters that are filled with clear or cloudy fluid and that look like pimples.
- The blisters break open, often leaking fluid.
- A dry crust forms over the broken blisters as they heal.
Skin infection is the most common complication for children under age 5.
Skin infection can form after the rash is scratched. Scratching allows bacteria
from the skin or under the fingernails to get into a chickenpox blister. The infection can become serious if it isn't treated. An infected blister also may
leave a scar.
people also are at increased risk of more serious problems from chickenpox. This higher-risk group includes newborns,
teenagers, adults—especially pregnant women—and those who have weak immune systems.
Although you become
immune to the chickenpox virus after you have had
chickenpox, the virus will still be in your body. The virus can later cause
shingles (herpes zoster), usually when you are an
older adult. About 1 in 5 people who have chickenpox will later get
shingles.1 The shingles vaccine can help prevent shingles or make shingles less painful.