Understanding Chicken Pox

Believe it or not, chicken pox belongs to the family of herpes viruses and is highly contagious. It also can be quite a scary condition for adults infected with it. Click to find out more about varicella.

Sanaz Majd, MD
3-minute read
Episode #124

When you hear the words “chicken pox” you probably picture those awful, itchy red welts that you had as a kid, and your mom slathering you with pink calamine lotion and telling you not to scratch. Chicken pox used to be a common rite of passage for kids in the U.S. You may have heard chicken pox referred to as “varicella,” which is the name of the virus that causes it. It belongs to the family of herpes viruses, believe it or not, and is highly contagious. 

Thankfully, the rates of complications, hospitalizations, and death have all decreased greatly since the advent of the varicella vaccine in 1995. Prior to 1995, about 9,000 kids were hospitalized for chicken pox complications every year. Now it is recommended to vaccinate all kids at age 1, along with a booster at age 4, to prevent this potentially serious infectivaccine all kids less than age 5 decreased greatly since the advent of the varicellaon. Chicken pox tends to infect children rather mildly and is pretty benign, but can wreak havoc in adults infected with it.


Chicken Pox Timeline of Events

Understanding Chicken Pox

Here’s how it all happens sequentially:

  1. Once you are exposed to someone who is infected with the varicella virus, it can be transmitted to you via microscopic droplets in the air from the nose or mouth of the infected individual, or via skin-to-skin contact with that person.

  2. It then enters your bloodstream and takes anywhere from 2-3 weeks to cause symptoms.

  3. You will first likely develop a fever, sore throat, or overall sense of ill-being, which doctors call “malaise.”

  4. Then within about 24 hours, the characteristic rash of chicken pox develops and continues to spread over the next 4 days.

  5. The rash then begins to heal over in the next 1-2 weeks. Some people may end up with permanent scars from it, unfortunately.

What Does the Chicken Pox Rash Look Like?

Before you convince yourself that the new rash you developed is actually chicken pox, you should familiarize yourself with some of its key features. Doctors can tell chicken pox from other rashes using these rough guidelines:


Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

About the Author

Sanaz Majd, MD

Dr. Sanaz Majd is a board-certified Family Medicine physician who graduated from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. Her special interests are women's health and patient education.