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Chickenpox & Shingles Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Chickenpox & Shingles

In young children, the illness usually begins with rash, a low-grade fever, and general malaise. In adults, a fever, chills, malaise, headache, and possibly, sore throat appear 2 or 3 days before the rash. The infection is usually more severe in adults.

The rash appears first on the face and scalp, then on the trunk, and then on the arms and legs. The very itchy blisters initially appear like water drops on a pink base. New blisters appear as older ones form scabs and heal. The scabs resolve in 1 to 3 weeks, usually without scarring. Once all the lesions are crusted over, one is no longer contagious. Complications are rare. They can include pneumonia and involvement of the nervous system.

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The first symptoms of shingles (zoster) are usually pain, burning, and discomfort in the area of nerve distribution. This can vary from mild to severe and generally precedes the eruption by several days. The rash is usually seen as a bandlike eruption on one side of the body. Redness is first seen in the area followed by bumps that rapidly become water blisters that become pus filled. The lesions scab over and heal in about a week. Persistent, severe pain after the rash has subsided, called postherpetic neuralgia, occurs in 10% to 15% of cases and is common in the elderly.

Physician-developed and -monitored.
Original Date of Publication: 03 Sep 2000
Reviewed by: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.
Last Reviewed: 04 Dec 2007
Last Modified:27 Jul 2010

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