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Chickenpox

image of child with chickenpox rash

Chickenpox is a common childhood illness. It usually gets better by itself within a week without needing to see a GP.

Check if it’s chickenpox

  • Chickenpox starts with red spots which can appear anywhere on the body
  • The spots fill with fluid and the blisters may burst
  • The spots might spread or stay in a small area
  • The spots scab over
  • More blisters might appear while others scab over

Other symptoms

Your child might get symptoms before or after the spots, including:

  • a high temperature above 38C
  • aches and pains, and generally feeling unwell
  • loss of appetite

Chickenpox is very itchy and can make children feel miserable, even if they don’t have many spots.

It’s possible to get chickenpox more than once, although it’s unusual.

Children need to stay away from school or nursery until all the spots have crusted over. This is usually 5 days after the spots first appear.

Things you can do to help your child:

  • Encourage them to drink plenty of fluids (try ice lollies if your child isn’t drinking) to avoid dehydration
  • Give them paracetamol to help with pain and discomfort
  • Put socks on your child’s hands at night to stop scratching
  • Keep their nails short
  • Ask your pharmacist for advice on the use of cooling creams or gels
  • Speak to your GP for advice on the use of antihistamine medicines to help with itching
  • Give them a bath with cool water to help with the itchiness. Remember to pat the skin dry (don’t rub)
  • Dress them in loose clothes

Remember to check with your airline if you’re going on holiday – many airlines won’t allow your child to fly with chickenpox.

Things to avoid

  • Don’t use ibuprofen – it can make someone with chickenpox very ill
  • Never give aspirin to children under 16
  • Ensure that your child is not around pregnant women, newborn babies and people with a weakened immune system, as it can be dangerous for them. If you are pregnant, seek your midwife’s advice

Ask for an urgent GP appointment if:

  • Your child has a weakened immune system
  • You think your newborn baby has chickenpox

It’s easy to catch chickenpox:
Your child can catch chickenpox by being in the same room as someone with it. It’s also spread by touching clothes or bedding that has fluid from the blisters on it.

How long is chickenpox infectious for
Chickenpox is infectious from 2 days before the spots appear to until they’ve crusted over, usually 5 days after they first appeared.

How soon your child will get symptoms after coming into contact with chickenpox
It takes 1 to 3 weeks from the time they were exposed to chickenpox for the spots to start appearing.

The chickenpox vaccine
Your child can get the chickenpox vaccine on the NHS if there’s a risk of harming someone with a weakened immune system. For example, your child could be vaccinated if you or your partner were having chemotherapy. Ask your GP’s advice.

Seek your GP’s advice if:

  • you’re not sure it’s chickenpox
  • the skin around the blisters is red, hot or painful (signs of infection)
  • your child is dehydrated
  • you’re concerned about your child or they get worse

If you need to visit your GP surgery, tell the receptionist you think it’s chickenpox before going in. They may recommend a special appointment time if other patients are at risk.

Visit this NHS page to find out more about how you can protect your family from chickenpox.