• Chickenpox, also known as varicella, occurs primarily in children, although adults who are not immune can contract it. It is quite contagious and is spread by breathing in infected respiratory droplets or coming into contact with the rash where it has ruptured. In persons who have had chickenpox, the virus can cause shingles later in life.

    Signs and Symptoms

    • Fever and weakness;
    • Red, itchy rash.

    The Diagnosis

    The best known symptom of chickenpox is the itchy, red rash that breaks out on the face, scalp, chest, back and, to a lesser extent, arms and legs. The rash usually appears about 2 weeks after exposure to the virus and begins as superficial spots.

    The spots quickly fill with a clear fluid, rupture, and turn crusty. These then slough off in a week or two. The rash continues to break out for the first 1 to 5 days, so spots at various stages of development may be present at the same time. Fever and malaise, mild in children and more severe in adults, also develop.

    How Serious Is Chickenpox?

    In children, chickenpox is a mild disease, but in adults it is more serious. In adults, pneumonia may develop, which can lead to death, although this is rare. In persons with suppressed immune systems, the disease is very serious.

    If a pregnant woman contracts chickenpox during the first or second trimester, there is a small risk that her child will be born with a congenital malformation.

    Chickenpox seldom lasts for more than 2 weeks, from the appearance of the first rash to the disappearance of the last one. Infection of the ruptured rash by bacteria may cause scarring.