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Chickenpox symptoms

Chickenpox starts with feeling unwell, a rash and a slight temperature.

The spots can be anywhere on the body, even inside the ears and mouth, on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet and inside the nappy area.

Although the rash starts as small, itchy red spots, after about 12-14 hours the spots develop a blister on top and become intensely itchy.

After a day or two, the fluid in the blisters gets cloudy and they begin to dry out and crust over. After one to two weeks, the crusting skin will fall off naturally.

New spots can keep appearing in waves for three to five days after the rash begins. Therefore different clusters of spots may be at different stages of blistering or drying out.

These scabs don't leave scars unless they're badly infected.

Chickenpox in adults

Chickenpox may be a childhood illness, but anyone at all ages can get it too. Chickenpox can cause serious complications at any age but tends to be more severe in adults than children.

Anyone with chickenpox should remain isolated from all other people until all the spots have crusted over. This means taking time off work, restricting social interactions, staying off school and child care as the condition can be serious. They should seek medical advice if they develop any abnormal symptoms, such as infected blisters.

Adults with chickenpox may benefit from taking antiviral medicine if treatment is started early in the course of the illness.

Pregnant women should be especially careful to avoid chickenpox as it can affect the unborn baby by causing foetal malformations, skin scarring and other serious problems (congenital varicella syndrome).

Unusual symptoms

Most healthy children (and adults) recover from chickenpox with no lasting ill-effects simply by resting, just as with cold or flu.

But some children and adults are unlucky and have a more severe bout than usual. The complications can be serious to fatal.

Contact your doctor straight away if you or your child develop any abnormal symptoms, for example:

  • if the skin surrounding the blisters becomes red and painful
  • if you or your child start to get pain in the chest or have difficulty breathing
  • if you or your child are becoming more unwell not better as expected.

Follow up the condition with your doctor early if you or your child are not getting better at any stage. In these cases, prescription medicine, and possibly hospital treatment, may be needed.

he varicella virus that causes chickenpox can reactivate many years after the initial infection and cause shingles (herpes zoster).

Last reviewed: October 2016

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