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Chickenpox: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Diagnosis, and Vaccine

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Chickenpox: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Diagnosis, and Vaccine

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Chickenpox, also called varicella, is a common childhood infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Read about its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options.

Published At January 17, 2018
Reviewed AtApril 23, 2024

What Is Chickenpox?

Chickenpox is a common childhood viral disease that develops in persons not previously exposed to chickenpox, not vaccinated against chickenpox, and in recent contact with persons having chickenpox or shingles. Although it is more common in children from 5 to 12 years of age, it can occur in any age group, including adults. A vaccine that protects children is available, and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends routine vaccination for chickenpox. This vaccine is a safe and effective method to prevent chickenpox.

Who Is at Risk?

  • Newborns whose mothers have not had chickenpox or vaccine.

  • Teenagers and adults.

  • Pregnant women who have never had chickenpox.

  • Those people who smoke.

  • People are affected by cancer or HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and are taking medications that impact the immune system.

  • People affected by chronic conditions such as asthma are taking medications that affect the immune system.

What Causes Chickenpox?

It is an infection that classically presents with rashes and fever. It is caused by a virus called varicella-zoster. This infection has an incubation period of seven to 21 days, meaning it may take many days for symptoms to appear after the virus enters the body.

How Does It Spread?

Direct spread through skin-to-skin contact, contact with oral droplets during coughing and sneezing, or touching the fluid from the blisters. You get infected by coming in contact with an infected person. Infected people can pass on the virus to those around them before a couple of days of blisters appearing and until all blisters have crusted over.

Factors That Reduce the Risk of Chickenpox:

Previous infection and vaccination reduce the risk of infection. A mother can also pass immunity from the virus to her newborn baby, which lasts about three months.

Risk Factors:

The following factors can increase the risk of infection:

  1. If you have never got chickenpox.

  2. Recent contact with an infected person.

  3. Children under 12 years of age.

  4. Spending time in a childcare facility.

What Are the Common Symptoms of Chickenpox?

Itchy rashes are the primary symptom. Other symptoms can appear earlier, even before the appearance of rashes:

  1. Tiredness.

  2. Headache.

  3. Body pain.

  4. Fever.

  5. Loss of appetite.

When to See the Doctor?

See the doctor if:

  • you are pregnant,

  • you have unexplained rashes with fever symptoms,

  • the rash spreads to the eyes,

  • the rash is tender and warm,

  • there is dizziness or breathing difficulty.

More About the Rashes

The rashes go through different stages, namely:

  • Papules - similar to pimples or insect bites, this is how they begin.

  • Vesicles - they progress to fluid-filled blisters that form raised bumps.

  • Crusts - once the blister breaks and the fluid oozes out, they dry out, forming scabs.

This process takes about a week. They usually start to appear in the head and trunk and then spread to the arms and legs. Since the new rashes develop in waves, there are multiple rashes all over the body, each at a different stage. Most cases of chickenpox are completely cured in two weeks. Indirect spread through contact with contaminated objects such as doorknobs, clothing, and toys.

How Does a Doctor Diagnose Chickenpox?

In case you develop unexplained rashes, you should consult a doctor immediately, even more so if the rash is accompanied by flu-like symptoms. These are signs that your symptoms are due to a viral infection. The doctor will diagnose chickenpox based on the physical examination of blisters. Or the doctor will send the fluid from the blisters to confirm the cause.

What Are the Treatment Options for Chickenpox?

Home Management

The prime requirement in home management is to care for itchy blisters.

  • Keep away from daycare, school, or work to prevent spread and ensure rest and hydration.

  • A bath can be taken daily with mild, lukewarm water and no soap. Adding plain oatmeal to the bath is known to help soothe skin wounds.

  • Applying a non-scented lotion after a bath helps with the dryness, especially the rashes in the scab stage.

  • Wearing loose cotton clothes is preferred.

  • Trim nails to prevent itching and secondary infections.

  • Put mittens or socks into the hands of young kids to prevent them from scratching.


  1. Antivirals such as Acyclovir are prescribed if the patient is in the high-risk category. If not, the infection is allowed to run its course.

  2. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) for fever and pain.

  3. Antihistamine to control the itching.

  4. Lacto Calamine to soothe the skin.

A person with chickenpox usually recovers without any antiviral treatment. But antivirals are given to people at high risk of complications, such as:

  1. Infants.

  2. Teenagers.

  3. Adults.

  4. Pregnancy.

  5. Immunocompromised (HIV).

  6. Leukemia.

  7. Cancer.

  8. Chemotherapy.

  9. Autoimmune diseases.

  10. Immunosuppressive drugs.

Complications of Chickenpox:

  1. Shingles: Once a person has chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus stays in the nerve cells dormant. If it gets reactivated later in life, it causes a nerve infection known as shingles.

  2. Bacterial Infection on Skin: Since there are so many itchy open sores on the body, children tend to scratch them unknowingly, depositing the bacteria in their nails into the skin and thus causing a skin infection.

  3. Sepsis: It can occur due to bacteria entering the bloodstream from the infected blisters.

  4. Reyes’s Syndrome: It is a fatal complication associated with Aspirin intake during a chickenpox episode. Aspirin should not be given to children to treat fevers caused by varicella-zoster.

  5. Pneumonia: This complication is more probable in pregnant women with chickenpox infection.

  6. Other less common complications include dehydration, meningitis, and encephalitis.

Chickenpox and Pregnancy

Chickenpox during pregnancy is associated with a lot of serious risks. There is a higher risk of the mom developing pneumonia. She can pass on the infection to the fetus as well (known as fetal varicella syndrome), causing birth defects.

How Can Chickenpox Be Prevented?

Varicella vaccines are available in combination and are part of most countries' regular immunization schedules. The first dose is 1 year, and the second booster dose is 4 years. For unvaccinated adults in close contact with infected children or adults, the vaccine can be given at any time. In most cases, your body will fight off this viral infection on its own, and you or your child can return to normal activities in a couple of weeks. Once the blisters heal, you will become immune to this infection, and the virus will stay dormant in your body. In some rare cases, it may cause re-infection. For more information, consult an infectious disease doctor online.


The varicella-zoster virus usually causes chickenpox. Itchy and fluid-filled blisters characterize it. This condition usually spreads easily to those who have not had the vaccine. The vaccine usually helps to protect children from getting chicken pox. This condition is treatable, but it can be prevented through a vaccine.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Does Chickenpox Look Like?

Chickenpox forms like a rash and begins as many tiny red bumps that look like insect bites or pimples. They grow in waves over two to four days, then develop as a thin-walled blister filled around with fluid. The blister walls break, leaving open sores, which finally crust over to become dry and brown scabs.


How Do You Get Chickenpox?

Chickenpox occurs due to transmission through the air. It Can also be transmitted from an infected patient to a healthy person by direct contact. Touching the wounds of the infected person can cause chickenpox. Show the affected person should stay isolated from others. Otherwise, exudates from the patient might affect others also.


How Long Does Chickenpox Last?

Chickenpox usually lasts for seven to ten days in kids, and they can return to day-care or school after about a week. Adults may get sick for a longer duration. All the blisters should be scabbed before they go back.


What Is the Fastest Way to Cure Chickenpox?

Here are some user-friendly remedies that can help adults or children feel normal until the immune system defends off the virus.
- Serve sugar-free popsicles
- Apply calamine lotion.
- Wear mittens to prevent scratching.
- Bathe in oatmeal.
- Take baking soda baths.
- Give approved pain relievers.
- Use Chamomile compresses.


How do I know if it is chickenpox?

Several signs of chickenpox usually happen in the following order as listed below:
- A stomach-ache which lasts for one or two days.
- Headache, feeling tired, and fever.
- Bumps filled with a fluid that resembles like milky water.
- A skin rash that is very itchy and looks like many tiny blisters.
- Skin that looks blotchy.
- Scabs after the blisters break.
- Spots that fade away


What Happens If Chickenpox Is Left Untreated?

Serious complexities from chickenpox include,
- Bacterial infections of the soft tissues and in children, including Group A streptococcal infections.
- Bleeding problems (hemorrhagic complications).
- Inflammation or disease of the brain (encephalitis, cerebellar ataxia).


How Do You Stop Chickenpox From Spreading?

In addition to vaccination, the spread of chickenpox can be prevented by washing your hands frequently and practicing good hygiene. Decrease exposure to people who are infected by chickenpox. If you are already affected by chickenpox, it is better to stay at home until all of the blisters have crusted and dried over.


Can We Take a Bath During Chickenpox?

By considering itching, take a lukewarm bath every couple of hours for the first few days. Add four tablespoons (two ounces) of baking soda, uncooked oats to a tub of water, corn-starch, or dry. Daily once, soap can be used in any one of the baths to vanish bacteria off the skin as possible. Gently pat your skin dry.


How Long Does It Take to Get Rid of Chickenpox?

Sign and symptoms of chickenpox usually last for one to two weeks – for 3 to 5 days after the development of a first initial spotty rash, new spots can appear across the body. Over five to ten days after the rash first appears, all the red spots will dry out, crust over, and fall or get rid of naturally.


What Food Must Be Avoided During Chickenpox?

Mostly salty foods must be avoided during chickenpox. Salty foods may irritate a sore mouth, which is typical in chickenpox patients. Salty foods like vegetable-blend juices and chicken broth will not help the patient recover. Also, it may worsen issues such as dehydration.
Source Article IclonSourcesSource Article Arrow
Dr. Vasantha. K. S
Dr. Vasantha. K. S



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