Chickenpox is a very common childhood illness, caused by a virus called varicella. It starts with red bumps that become small, yellowish blisters affecting the whole body – including the mouth and genitals (which can be very painful). They then open before scabbing over. These are very itchy and can make your child miserable. They may have a temperature, a cough and a runny nose. Children are able to pass the virus to others from the day before the rash appears until the last spot has scabbed over.
Chickenpox rarely needs treatment, unless in a new-born baby, or in a child with a known weak immune system ( i.e. weakened immune system due to anti-cancer treatment, immunosuppressive treatment or genetic immunodeficiency). If you are not sure it is chickenpox look at other childhood rashes here.
When should you worry?
- Has blue lips
- Too breathless to talk / eat or drink
- Becomes pale, mottled and feels abnormally cold to touch
- Becomes extremely agitated, confused or very lethargic (difficult to wake)
- Develops severe headache, neck stiffness or balance problems
- Has a fit or seizure
- Has a rash that does not disappear with pressure (the ‘Glass Test’)
- Is under 3 months of age with a temperature of 38°C / 100.4°F or above (unless fever in the 48 hours following vaccinations and no other red or amber features)
You need urgent help.
Go to the nearest Hospital Emergency (A&E) Department or phone 999
- Increasing pain and redness between the spots:
- New blisters/spots appearing after 7 days
- Continues to have a fever of 38.0°C / 100.4°F or more for more than 5 days or if a fever returns after it initially settles
- Seems dehydrated (sunken eyes, drowsy, no urine passed in 12 hours)
- If the fever does not settle with paracetamol and simple cooling measures
- Rash spreading to the eyes
- Has extreme shivering or complains of muscle pain
- Is getting worse or if you are worried
- A parent is pregnant and has not previously had chickenpox
- Contact with pregnant women who has not previously had chickenpox, person with a weakened immune system who has not previous had chickenpox or a new-born baby (the contact should seek advice from a healthcare professional)
- Is 3-6 months of age with a temperature of 39°C / 102.2°F or above (but fever is common in babies up to 2 days after they receive vaccinations)
You need to contact a doctor or nurse today.
Please ring your GP surgery or call NHS 111 – dial 111
If none of the above features present:
Continue providing your child’s care at home. If you are still concerned about your child, speak to your health visitor, local pharmacist or call NHS 111– dial 111. Avoid nursery or school for 5 days from rash onset or until all spots are fully scabbed over.
Continue providing your child’s care at home. If you are still concerned about your child, call NHS 111 – dial 111
What can you do to help your child?
Seeing your child unwell with chickenpox can be very distressing for a parent and while there is usually no treatment for the virus itself, there are simple things you can do to make your child more comfortable:
- Regular paracetamol for temperature/pain as per the instructions on the packaging
- Antihistamines (eg piriton) can help with itching and aid sleep
- Drink plenty of fluid and try ice lollies if your child is not drinking much
- Calamine lotion/oat milk bath/Sodium bicarbonate bath for itch
- Pat dry after bath rather than rubbing for comfort
- Dress in loose clothes
- Don’t give ibuprofen or aspirin unless advised to by a doctor
- Cut nails/apply hand mittens at night to reduce damage to skin and try to
- Avoid too much scratching if possible
How long does it last?
- Usually the last spot has crusted over by 5-7 days after the rash first appears
- It is highly contagious until spots have dried and scabbed over
- Avoid nursery or school for 5 days from rash onset or until all spots are fully scabbed over
- Avoid contact with new-born babies, people with a weakened immune system and pregnant women until all of their spots have scabbed over – if concerned regarding this contact your GP
The chickenpox vaccine
The chickenpox vaccine is a vaccine used to prevent catching and spreading the disease. It is not part of the standard vaccine programme but is offered to children who are at increased risk of severe chickenpox infection and to those with a family member at risk of complications. It is also available privately through travel clinics and pharmacies and costs between £120 – £200. More information is available