What is chickenpox?

Chickenpox is a common illness caused by a virus (germ) called varicella zoster. People often get the virus as young children if they have not been vaccinated against it. A child with chickenpox can easily give the virus to other children. Almost all children catch chickenpox but few develop any serious problems. Chickenpox today is much less common because most children are vaccinated when they are young.

Once you have had chickenpox, you will not catch it again from another person. Adults who get chickenpox may become very sick, so it's better to have chickenpox when you are a child, or prevent getting it by being vaccinated.

How is chickenpox spread?

Children can get chickenpox at any age. After being exposed to chickenpox, your child may appear to be fine for one to three weeks before feeling sick. Children can spread the virus from one day before they show signs of illness to about five days after a skin rash appears.

The virus is spread by:

  • Coming in contact with someone who has chickenpox
  • Breathing air from an infected person who sneezes or coughs
  • Coming in contact with fluids from an infected child's eyes, nose or mouth

What are the symptoms of chickenpox?

Signs of chickenpox are easy to see. Healthcare providers often can look at a child's skin and know if he or she has chickenpox. Signs of chickenpox usually happen in the following order:

  • Fever, feeling tired, headache
  • A stomachache that lasts for one or two days
  • A skin rash that is very itchy and looks like many small blisters
  • Bumps filled with a liquid that looks like milky water
  • Scabs after the blisters break
  • Skin that looks blotchy
  • Spots that fade away

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