What is the chickenpox illness like?

The rash appears first on the trunk and face, but can spread over the entire body. In a person who has not received chickenpox vaccine, the infection can cause between 250 to 500 itchy blisters. Fever and headache may also be present. The illness usually lasts about 5-10 days. About one (1) unvaccinated child in 10 has a complication from chickenpox serious enough to visit a health care provider including infected skin lesions, other infections, dehydration from vomiting or diarrhea, flare-ups of asthma or more serious complications such as pneumonia or encephalitis (infection of the brain).

Certain groups of persons are more likely to have more serious illness with complications. These include adults, infants, adolescents and people with weak immune systems from either illnesses or from medications such long-term steroids. Chickenpox illness in a pregnant woman, especially during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, can occasionally cause birth defects in the unborn baby.

People who have previously had chickenpox or been vaccinated occasionally still get chickenpox. They usually have a milder illness without fever and with fewer than 50 skin lesions, which may not form blisters and might not be itchy. The rash may look like bug bites and the illness usually does not last as long as in those who have never had chickenpox or the vaccine.

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