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Chickenpox is very highly contagious. It is easily passed between members of families and school classmates through airborne particles, droplets in exhaled air and fluid from the blisters or sores.

Indirect transmission also occurs through contact with articles of clothing and other items exposed to fresh drainage from open sores. Patients are contagious up to 5 days (more commonly, 1 to 2 days) before and 5 days after the date that their rash appears. When the sores have crusted over, the person is usually no longer contagious.

Symptoms tend to appear 14 to 16 days after initial exposure but can occur any time from 10 days up to 21 days after contact with the virus. Chickenpox is characterized by 1 to 2 days of mild fever up to 102 degrees F, general weakness, and a rash, often the first sign of the disease.

Rarely, a person may have the disease without the rash. The rash of chickenpox develops in crops with raised red spots arriving first, progressing to blisters that burst, creating open sores, before crusting over. This process usually starts on the scalp, then the trunk (its area of greatest concentration), and finally the arms and legs.

Any area of skin that is irritated (by diaper rash, poison ivy, eczema, sunburn, etc.) is likely to be hard hit by the rash. The rash is typically very itchy (pruritic).

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