It happens to many of us at some point in our lives, usually when we’re young. You don’t feel very well for several days. What seems like a cold takes a turn for the worse when you wake up one day to find you’re covered in itchy red spots.

When you see those tell-tale spots, you know you’ve got it. Chickenpox! Don’t worry, though, you won’t be growing feathers any time soon.

The word “pox” is often used to mean “curse.” So were you cursed by a chicken? Not quite. Although the symptoms of chickenpox may seem like a curse, “pox” can also refer to skin breakouts like the kind you see on someone with chickenpox.

A virus called varicella zoster causes chickenpox. If you come down with chickenpox, you usually have symptoms that seem like a cold for a few days before the spots appear. The spots are actually a rash of tiny blisters. You may also have a fever or a stomachache.

After the rash appears, the tiny blisters — called vesicles — fill up with a clear liquid. The vesicles release chemicals into your skin that make it itch. Although the itching can drive you crazy, it’s actually a good sign, because it means your body is defending itself like it’s supposed to.

When you have chickenpox, the best thing you can do is get plenty of rest. Treat your symptoms like you would if you had a regular cold or the flu. And try not to scratch your rash!

Use anti-itch cream on your rash and avoid scratching as much as possible, because scratching can cause the rash to become infected and prolong your suffering! Your doctor might also recommend that you take a special medicine called an antihistamine that will help relieve the itching.

Thanks to advances in medicine, there’s actually a chickenpox vaccine available today. Many kids who get the vaccine never get chickenpox. Some still do, but their experience with chickenpox tends to be less severe than those who didn’t get the vaccine.

If you do come down with chickenpox, you may be quarantined for several days. That means your contact with other people will be severely limited, so that you don’t spread the virus to others. Chickenpox is very contagious, which means it’s easy to give to other people.

Unfortunately, chickenpox is most contagious during the first few days of being sick. That’s often before the tell-tale rash appears. So when you think you just have a cold, you could be spreading chickenpox to others!

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