How is chickenpox (varicella) diagnosed?

Updated: Aug 31, 2020
  • Author: Anthony J Papadopoulos, MD; Chief Editor: Dirk M Elston, MD  more...
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Chickenpox is usually diagnosed clinically on the basis of the characteristic rash and successive crops of lesions. These may be found in various developmental and healing stages in affected sites. Patient exposure to an infected contact within the incubation period of 10-21 days is an important diagnostic clue. The more complicated course in adults with chickenpox can be associated with a more widespread rash; prolonged fever; and an increased likelihood of complications, the most common being varicella pneumonia. (See Clinical Presentation.)

VZV can be isolated on vesicular fluid cultures, which provides a definitive diagnosis. Direct immunofluorescence has excellent sensitivity. (See Workup.)

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