The incubation period of chickenpox is about two weeks long. During this incubation period, a person will exhibit no symptoms of the disease. For most of this time period, he or she is not even contagious. But during the tail end of the incubation period, the affected person may begin to spread the disease even though no symptoms have yet appeared.
The long incubation period of chickenpox is one of the reasons why the disease is so contagious, especially among children. Many times children will go to school during the incubation period of the disease and spread it to those around them. Children spread the disease the most. Chickenpox is highly contagious and can spread via a cough or sneeze. During the last 48 hours of the incubation period, a person can spread chickenpox to others.
Once the incubation period passes, the signs of chickenpox appear. In addition to chickenpox blisters, these can also include a fever, headache, and abdominal pain. Thankfully for children, mild chickenpox is relatively harmless. The disease passes in a few days, and and blisters usually fade away in the following weeks. Once a person gets chickenpox, it is very unlikely that he or she will ever get it again.
Although chickenpox is mostly harmless in children, it can be a life-threatening disease for some groups. Pregnant women, newborns, and adults can all develop serious chickenpox complications. In a worst-case scenario, chickenpox can lead to encephalitis, a swelling of the brain that can be life-threatening. Every year approximately 100 people die from chickenpox.
The long incubation period can be partially to blame for such high numbers. An adult who has not had chickenpox should avoid someone with chickenpox blisters or any other obvious symptom. As the disease is contagious during the end of the incubation period, a person is still at risk from catching it from anyone who has the disease but has not yet shown symptoms.
Adults with chickenpox are usually advised to see a doctor. For children, the opposite is usually recommended. Children with chickenpox are instead advised to avoid a doctor's office unless the symptoms get very severe or a high fever presents itself. Chickenpox will almost always go away on its own, and there is nothing a doctor can do to help expedite the process. The only thing going to the doctor will accomplish in these cases is increase the chance the child will spread the disease to others.