Chickenpox (Varicella) - What Happens
The first symptoms of
chickenpox-fever, feeling sick, decreased appetite,
headache, cough, and sore throat-usually develop between 14 and 16 days after
contact with a person infected with the virus. But it may be as late as 21
days after contact before symptoms appear.
- Some children develop 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.
impaired immune systems may develop the first symptoms
of chickenpox sooner than the usual 10 to 14 days after exposure.
Chickenpox rash usually appears on the upper body about 1
or 2 days after the first symptoms develop. The trunk usually is most affected,
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, including drying and crusting over. New
red spots continue to develop every day for as long as 5 to 7 days.
Skin infection is the most common complication for children under age 5.
Skin infection can develop after scratching the rash, which allows bacteria
from the skin or under the fingernails to get into a chickenpox blister. This
condition can become serious if it is not treated. An infected blister also may
develop into a scar.
Some people may have more chickenpox blisters
and longer-lasting symptoms than healthy children. Severe illness or
complications are more common in:
- Infants after infection of the mother. A baby
born within a few days of his or her mother's chickenpox infection has a risk of
severe chickenpox infection. Babies born to women who had chickenpox in the
first or early second
trimester of pregnancy may develop congenital
varicella syndrome, which can cause birth defects such as eye problems or an
- Pregnant women, who are at risk for
premature labor and
- People age 13 and
older (especially people who smoke cigarettes or have long-term lung diseases).
- People who have impaired immune
- People who have
cystic fibrosis, which causes problems with the lungs
and other organs.
- Children and adolescents receiving long-term
The varicella-zoster virus that causes chickenpox can
appear in different forms. These
variations of chickenpox are most often seen in young
children and in the fetus of a pregnant woman.
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 20 out of 100 people who have chickenpox will later develop