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Chickenpox

Find out all you need know about chickenpox, including what the symptoms are, how to treat it and when to get medical advice.

Chickenpox is common and mostly affects children, although you can get it at any age. It usually gets better by itself within a week without needing to see a GP.

Check if it's chickenpox

Other symptoms

You 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. Chickenpox is usually much worse in adults.

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

If you're not sure it's chickenpox

Check other rashes in children.

Things you can do yourself

You'll need to stay away from school, nursery or work until you've stopped getting any new spots and for at least 5 days after the first spots appeared.

But you don't need to wait until all the spots have healed or crusted over before going back as the risk of spreading it to others is very small after 5 days.

Do

  • drink plenty of fluid (try ice lollies if your child isn't drinking) to avoid dehydration
  • take paracetamol to help with pain and discomfort
  • put socks on your child's hands at night to stop scratching
  • cut your child's nails
  • use cooling creams or gels from your pharmacy
  • speak to your pharmacist about using antihistamine medicine to help itching
  • bathe in cool water and pat the skin dry (don't rub)
  • dress in loose clothes
  • check with your airline if you're going on holiday – many airlines won't allow you to fly with chickenpox

Don't

  • use ibuprofen – it can make someone with chickenpox very ill
  • give aspirin to children under 16
  • be around pregnant women, newborn babies and people with a weakened immune system, as it can be dangerous for them

Speak to a GP 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

Tell the receptionist you think it's chickenpox before going in. They may recommend a special appointment time if other patients are at risk.

Ask for an urgent GP appointment if:

  • you're an adult and have chickenpox
  • you're pregnant and haven't had chickenpox before and you've been near someone with it
  • you have a weakened immune system and you've been near someone with chickenpox
  • you think your newborn baby has chickenpox

In these situations, your GP can prescribe medicine to prevent complications. You need to take it within 24 hours of the spots coming out.

It's easy to catch chickenpox

You 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 chickenpox is infectious for

Chickenpox is usually infectious from 2 days before the spots appeared until 5 days after they first appeared.

How soon you get symptoms after coming into contact with chickenpox

It takes 1 to 3 weeks from the time you were exposed to chickenpox for the spots to start appearing.

Chickenpox in pregnancy

It's rare to get chickenpox when you're pregnant and the chance of it causing complications is low.

If you do get chickenpox when you're pregnant, there's a small risk of your baby being very ill when it's born.

Speak to your GP if you haven't had chickenpox and you've been near someone with it.

The chickenpox vaccine

You can get the chickenpox vaccine on the NHS if there's a risk of harming someone with a weakened immune system.

For example, a child could be vaccinated if one of their parents was having chemotherapy.

You can pay for the vaccine at some private clinics or travel clinics. It costs between £120 and £200.

Shingles and chickenpox

You can't catch shingles from someone with chickenpox. You can catch chickenpox from someone with shingles if you haven't had chickenpox before.

When you get chickenpox, the virus stays in your body. It can be triggered again if your immune system is low and cause shingles.

This can be because of stress, certain conditions, or treatments like chemotherapy.


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