Chickenpox - Symptoms

The first signs of chickenpox are usually a slight fever and a general feeling of illness. Within a few hours or days, small red spots begin to appear on the scalp, neck, or upper half of the body. About twelve to twenty-four hours later, these spots become itchy and develop into fluid-filled bumps. These bumps, called vesicles, go through a series of changes. First they turn into blisters. Then they break open, and scabs begin to form on top of them. This process goes on for a period of two to five days.

Blisters can also form on other parts of the body, including the insides of the mouth, nose, ears, vagina, and rectum. Some people develop only a few blisters. In most cases, however, the number reaches 250 to 500. Toward the end of the disease, scabs begin to fall off. Scarring normally does not occur unless the blisters are scratched and become infected.

A drug for relieving pain and fever. Tylenol is the most common example.
An antiviral drug used for combating chickenpox and other herpes viruses.
Reye's syndrome:
A rare but often fatal disease that involves the brain, liver, and kidneys.
A disease that causes a rash and a very painful nerve inflammation. An attack of chickenpox eventually gives rise to shingles in about 20 percent of the population.
Varicella-zoster immune globulin (VZIG):
A substance that can reduce the severity of chickenpox symptoms.
Varicella-zoster virus:
The virus that causes chickenpox and shingles.
A vaccine for the prevention of chickenpox.

The amount of itchiness caused by the blisters can range from barely noticeable to severe. People with chickenpox may also have headaches, stomach pain, and a fever. Full recovery usually takes five to ten days after symptoms first appear. Again, the most severe cases of the disease are usually found among older children and adults.

Some groups of people are at risk for developing complications in connection with chickenpox. The most common of these complications are bacterial infections of the blisters, pneumonia (see pneumonia entry), dehydration (loss of water from the body), encephalitis (brain fever; see encephalitis entry), and hepatitis (inflammation of the liver; see hepatitis entry). The groups at risk for these complications include:

  • Infants. Complications occur more often among children less than one year old than among older children. The risk is greatest to newborns, among whom the death rate is greater than for any other age group. Babies are especially at risk when born to women who had chickenpox while they were pregnant. In such cases, the child faces the risk of physical disorders, brain damage, or death.
  • Children with damaged immune systems. A child's immune system can be damaged by many factors, including genetic disorders or disease. Children in this group have the second highest death rate from chickenpox.
  • Adults and children over the age of 15. Chickenpox is generally more serious in these age groups than it is among younger children.

Chickenpox produces an itchy rash with blisters that lasts about a week. (© Jim Selby/Science Photo Library, National Audubon Society Collection. Reproduced by permission of Photo Researchers, Inc.)
Chickenpox produces an itchy rash with blisters that lasts about a week. (©
Jim Selby/Science Photo Library, National Audubon Society Collection
. Reproduced by permission of
Photo Researchers, Inc.

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