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Chickenpox, or varicella, causes a blister-like rash, itching and fever. It’s usually mild but can cause dangerous complications in babies, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems. The best prevention is the chickenpox vaccine.

What causes chickenpox?

Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It’s highly contagious and spreads through air. Children or adults who haven’t had chickenpox can get it. Someone who isn’t immune can also get chickenpox from someone with shingles. The same virus causes both diseases.

What are chickenpox symptoms?

Chickenpox symptoms appear 10 to 21 days after exposure. They typically last five to 10 days. The most obvious symptom is an itchy rash that looks like red spots. The rash can range from a few spots to as many as 500.

The rash has three stages:

  • Raised, itchy bumps appear
  • Bumps turn into fluid-filled blisters
  • Blisters break or leak and scab over

Other symptoms that may appear before the rash include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle ache

How is chickenpox treated?

The chickenpox virus can’t be cured medically, but you can relieve symptoms. Try over-the-counter lotions or oatmeal baths for itching. Acetaminophen treats fever and pain. (Do NOT use aspirin, which can cause serious complications.) Scratching blisters can cause infection. Keep fingernails short and clean, and wear loose clothing.

Consult a healthcare provider if you experience any of these complications:

  • Infected skin or open sores
  • Rash near an eye
  • Coughing or difficulty breathing
  • High fever or fever that lasts more than four days
  • Frequent vomiting or abdominal pain
  • Confusion, dizziness or difficulty walking

If you are pregnant or have a weakened immune system, consult a healthcare provider if you have any symptoms.

How to prevent chickenpox

A chickenpox vaccine can prevent you from getting the varicella virus. It is not always 100 percent effective, but the symptoms will be milder if a vaccinated person develops the illness.

Seek medical attention if you experience unusual complications from chickenpox. Visit your nearest CareNow® urgent care clinic for diagnosis and treatment. You can minimize your wait time with our Web Check-In®.

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