You haven't been feeling so great for the last few days, and
you've had a runny nose and a cough. Then one morning you wake
up and stumble into the bathroom. You look in the mirror with
blurry eyes and - yikes! You have chickenpox!
What Is Chickenpox?
Chickenpox is caused by a
called varicella zoster. People who get the virus often develop a
rash of spots that look like blisters all over their bodies. The
blisters are small and sit on an area of red skin that can be
anywhere from the size of a pencil eraser to the size of a
You've probably heard that chickenpox are itchy. It's
true. The illness also may come along with a runny nose and cough.
But the good news is that chickenpox is a common illness for kids
and most people get better by just resting like you do with a cold
or the flu. And the really good news is that, thanks to the
chickenpox vaccine, lots of kids don't get chickenpox at all.
Kids who do get it, if they got the shot, often get less severe
cases, which means they get better quicker.
What Happens When You Have Chickenpox?
Chickenpox may start out seeming like a cold: You might have a
runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, and a cough. But 1 to 2 days later,
begins, often in bunches of spots on the chest and face. From there
it can spread out quickly over the entire body - sometimes the rash
is even in a person's ears and mouth. The number of pox is
different for everyone. Some people get just a few bumps; others
are covered from head to toe.
At first, the rash looks like pinkish dots that quickly develop
a small blister on top (a blister is a bump on your skin that fills
up with fluid). After about 24 to 48 hours, the fluid in the
blisters gets cloudy and the blisters begin to crust over.
Chickenpox blisters show up in waves, so after some begin to
crust over, a new group of spots may appear. New chickenpox usually
stop appearing by the seventh day, though they may stop as early as
the third day. It usually takes 10-14 days for all the blisters to
be scabbed over and then you are no longer contagious.
Besides the rash, someone with chickenpox might also have a
, a fever, and may just not feel well.
How Does Chickenpox Spread?
Chickenpox is contagious, meaning that someone who has it can
easily spread it to someone else. Someone who has chickenpox is
most contagious during the first 2 to 5 days that he or she is
sick. That's usually about 1 to 2 days before the rash shows
up. So you could be spreading around chickenpox without even
A person who has chickenpox can pass it to someone else by
coughing or sneezing. When he or she coughs, sneezes, laughs, and
even talks, tiny drops come out of the mouth and nose. These drops
are full of the chickenpox virus. It's easy for someone else to
breathe in these drops or get them on his or her hands. Before you
know it, the chickenpox virus has infected someone new.
Itchy Itchy, Scratchy Scratchy
If you are that unlucky person, how do you keep your chickenpox
from driving you crazy? They itch, but you're not supposed to
These tips can help you feel less itchy:
- Keep cool because heat and
will make you itch more. You might want to put a cool, wet
washcloth on the really bad areas.
- Trim your fingernails, so if you do scratch, they won't
tear your skin.
- Soak in a lukewarm bath. Adding some oatmeal to your bath
water can help relieve the itching.
- Have your mom or dad help you apply calamine lotion, which
Scratching the blisters can tear your skin and leave scars.
Scratching can also let germs in, and the blisters could get
infected. If your fever goes higher and an area of your skin gets
really red, warm, and painful, tell an adult right away. You'll
need to see a doctor because you could have a skin infection.
While you have the chickenpox, a pain reliever like
acetaminophen might help you feel better, but let your parents
help you with this.
take aspirin because it can cause a rare but serious illness in
kids called Reye syndrome. Medicines and creams that may stop the
itch can also be helpful.
It doesn't usually happen, but let your parents know if you
feel especially bad. Sometimes, chickenpox leads to other, more
Usually, you won't have any major problems and you'll
get better in a week or two. And when
the blisters have scabs, you're not contagious anymore and you
can go back to school! In a few days, the scabs will fall off. And
once you've had chickenpox, it's unlikely you'll ever
get it again.
Get a Shot, Avoid the Dots!
Not long ago, 3 million people got chickenpox each year in the
United States. But now that kids receive the shot, fewer and fewer
people get chickenpox. Have you had the chickenpox vaccine? You
might not remember because it's often given at age 1. But you
can get it when you're older, too. Ask your mom or dad if
you've had yours. You'll be glad that you did if chickenpox
starts making its way around your school!
Barbara P. Homeier, MD
Date reviewed: January 2007
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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