How Long Does Chickenpox Last?

Chickenpox is caused by a virus known as varicella-zoster (VZV), and is easily spread by people infected with the disease to those who have not already had chickenpox and have not been vaccinated against it. Chickenpox can be spread through the air after an infected person sneezes or coughs, or by breathing in the particles from or touching the blister-like virus rash. Symptoms of chickenpox include an itchy rash that resembles blisters, fever, and feeling tired. It can be dangerous for babies and children as well as for people who have a compromised immune system.

How Long Does Chickenpox Last?

How long does chickenpox last?It depends on whether you are an adult or a child. Children who have become infected with chickenpox usually have it for 7-10 days, adults may be sick with the disease for longer. Once all of the blisters have scabbed over, it is safe for the patient to return to school or work.

The scabbed over blisters may still be visible for weeks, with dark spots remaining for up to a year. Scaring should not occur where the rash occurred unless bacteria came into contact with it when scratching.

Once someone has chickenpox, the virus remains in the body for life, but is kept under control by the person’s immune system. If the virus emerges again later in life, it will result in shingles, which affects about 10% of adults who have previously had chickenpox.

How Long Is Chickenpox Contagious For?

After being exposed to chickenpox, it takes 10-21 days for the disease to develop. The patient becomes contagious a couple of days prior to developing the rash and continues being contagious until all blisters have scabbed over. How long is chickenpox contagious for depends on how long it takes for the blisters to heal over.

People with shingles are only contagious while blisters are developing and not before.

How Is Chickenpox Treated at Home?

Unless complications arise, the symptoms of chickenpox can be treated at home.

Don’t Scratch

It is important to avoid scratching the chickenpox rash as this can result in scarring and increase the chances of developing an infection. To keep your child from scratching, you can trim your child’s nails and have him or her wear gloves, especially at bedtime.

Relieve Itching and Other Symptoms

To help ease itching and pain from the chickenpox rash, and to reduce the discomfort caused by headache, fever and fatigue, try the following methods:

  • Take a lukewarm bath with uncooked or colloidal oatmeal or with baking soda.
  • Dab blisters with Calamine lotion.
  • Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) for fever and pain.
  • Take antihistamines (Benadryl) for itching. Check with a doctor before giving this medication to a child.
  • Eat soft, bland foods if blisters occur in the mouth.

Never take aspirin with chickenpox. It could lead to a serious medical condition known as Reye’s syndrome. As well, be sure to see a doctor before treating a high fever associated with chickenpox.

When to See a Doctor

If you or your child experience any of the following symptoms with chickenpox, it is important to contact your doctor right away.

  • Signs of encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, which include unusual sleepiness, confusion, constant vomiting, sensitivity to bright light, and severe headache.
  • Signs of varicella pneumonia, which include persistent coughing or trouble breathing.
  • Signs of serious skin infection, which include skin that is sore, warm and red or rash that develops into large open sores.

Make an appointment to see your doctor if you have been exposed to chicken pox and:

  • Are older than 12, and have never had chickenpox or been vaccinated against the disease.
  • Have a weakened immune system
  • Are pregnant

Seek medical help if you have chickenpox and:

  • Have had a fever for longer than 24 hours
  • Have severe itching that is not helped by home treatments
  • Have a chickenpox blister in your eye
  • Have had a rash for longer than 2 weeks
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