Chickenpox is a mild and common childhood illness that most children catch at some point.
Chickenpox (known medically as varicella) is a mild and common childhood illness that most children catch at some point. It is caused by a virus called the varicella-zoster virus and it spreads quickly and easily from someone who is infected.
It causes a rash of red, itchy spots that turn into fluid-filled blisters.
The chickenpox virus is spread most easily from someone who has the rash. The blisters are very itchy and break open easily, which can contaminate surfaces or objects. The virus may then be transferred by touching the surface or object, then touching your face.
The virus is also contained in the millions of tiny droplets that come out of the nose and mouth when an infected person coughs or sneezes. This can also contaminate surfaces or objects.
It normally takes 14 days for the symptoms of chickenpox to show after you have come into contact with the virus. However, this can vary from person to person –from as little as 7 days, up to 21 days. This is called the "incubation period".
Someone with chickenpox is most infectious from one to two days before the rash appears, until all the blisters have crusted over. This usually takes five to six days from the start of the rash.
Some children have only a few spots, but other children can have spots that cover their entire body. These are most likely to appear on the face, ears and scalp, under the arms, on the chest and belly, and on the arms and legs.
Symptoms of chickenpox
The most commonly recognised chickenpox symptom is a spotty, blistering red rash that can cover the entire body.
Before the rash appears, you or your child may have some mild flu-like symptoms, including:
a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or over
aching, painful muscles
loss of appetite
These flu-like symptoms, especially the fever, tend to be more common and worse in adults than in children.
The spots normally appear in clusters and tend to be behind the ears, on the face, on the chest, belly, arms and legs and even the scalp. However, the spots can be anywhere on the body, even inside the ears and mouth, on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet and inside the nappy area.
Caring for your child with chickenpox
If you think that your child has chicken pox, take him or her to see a doctor as soon as possible and keep him/her away from other children.
The virus usually clears up by itself without any treatment.
However, there are ways of easing the itch and discomfort, and there are important steps you can take to stop chickenpox spreading.
If your child is in pain or has a high temperature (fever), ask your doctor about a pain killer.
Never give your child aspirin if you suspect or know that they have chickenpox
It is important for children (and adults) with chickenpox to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
Avoid anything that may make the mouth sore, such as salty foods. Soup is easy to swallow as long as it is not too hot.
Stop the scratching
Chickenpox can be incredibly itchy, but it's important for children to not scratch the spots, to avoid future scarring.
One way of stopping scratching is to keep fingernails clean and short. You can also put socks over your child's hands at night to stop them scratching the rash as they sleep.
If your child's skin is very itchy or sore, try using calamine lotion or cooling gels. Dress them to keep them cool.