The main symptom of chickenpox is a red rash made up of spots or blisters.

It usually takes between one and three weeks for symptoms to appear after becoming infected (the incubation period).

Early symptoms

Sometimes other symptoms may start a day or two before the rash appears.

These can include:

  • feeling tired and generally unwell
  • a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or over
  • feeling sick
  • headache
  • aching, painful muscles
  • loss of appetite

Not everyone has these symptoms. They tend to be more common and more severe in older children and adults with chickenpox.

Chickenpox rash

The chickenpox rash develops in three main stages.

Stage 1: spots

The rash starts off as small, raised red spots.

The spots often first appear on the face or trunk before spreading to other parts of the body.

There may just be a few spots or there may be hundreds covering most of the body.

Sometimes spots can appear on the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, inside the ears or mouth, or around the bottom or genitals.

Stage 2: blisters

During the following hours or the next day, the spots develop a fluid-filled blister on top.

The blisters may be very itchy, but it's important not to scratch them.

Scratching could spread the infection to others and increases the chances of complications such as a more serious skin infection.

Stage 3: scabs and crusts

Over the next few days, the fluid in the blisters turns cloudy and the blisters begin to dry out and scab over.

New spots may keep appearing for a few days after the rash begins, so there may be a mix of spots, blisters and scabs at the same time.

Chickenpox is contagious until every blister has scabbed over, which usually occurs by around five or six days after the rash started.

The scabby crusts will fall off by themselves over the next week or two.


Page last reviewed: 18/10/2016

Next review due: 18/10/2019