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Symptoms of Chicken Pox

Symptoms of Childhood Illnesses


Updated July 16, 2014

Female doctor giving injection to a girl
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Chicken pox is a viral infection that is becoming less common because most children now receive the chicken pox vaccine.

Children who still get chicken pox typically develop symptoms about 10 to 21 days after being exposed to someone with chicken pox (the incubation period) or shingles (herpes zoster).

Symptoms of Chicken Pox

Symptoms of chicken pox include that:
  • children sometimes have a prodrome of fever, malaise, headache, lack of appetite, and mild abdominal pain for 1 to 2 days
  • the rash typically appears first on a child's trunk, scalp, and face and consists of small, very itchy, flat red spots, which then turn into raised fluid filled vesicles, often described as looking like a 'dewdrop' that become umbilicated and cloudy and eventually crust over
  • the fever only lasts about 2 to 4 days
  • new 'crops' of the rash on the child's trunk and then arms and legs continue for about 4 days
  • all of the lesions are crusted over about 6 to 7 days after the illness began
  • the crusts then fall off in another 7 days, although it sometimes takes up to 20 days, usually without scarring
Although not as common, children with chicken pox can also develop ulcers in their mouth.

More serious symptoms that might indicate a complication of chicken pox has developed include redness around the base of skin lesions, a cough and difficulty breathing, or any neurological symptoms, such as slurred speech, severe headache, vomiting, seizures, or trouble walking.

Chicken Pox Facts

  • The average child with chicken pox gets about 300 lesions.

  • It is very typical or characteristic for children with chicken pox to have lesions in different stages at the same time, including the first flat red spots, the fluid filled vesicles, and the crusted vesicles.

  • The fever with chicken pox usually ranges from 100 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit, but may be as high as 106 degrees in some cases.

  • Children with chicken pox are contagious for 1 or 2 days before they develop a rash and until all of their vesicles have crusted.

  • Chicken pox crusts that are scratched off or infected may lead to scars.

  • Children who have chicken pox after having the chicken pox vaccine often have an atypical case, with much milder symptoms and fewer lesions.

1 Behrman: Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 17th ed., Copyright 2004 Saunders, An Imprint of Elsevier
2 Habif: Clinical Dermatology, 4th ed., Copyright 2004 Mosby, Inc.
3 Gershon: Krugman's Infectious Diseases of Children, 11th ed., Copyright 2004 Mosby, Inc.

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