Chickenpox 

Introduction 

Chickenpox is a common childhood illness that causes a rash of itchy spots that turn to fluid-filled blisters 

Kids: coughs, colds and ear infections

What to do when your child has a minor illness such as a cough, cold, sore throat or ear infection

Chickenpox is a mild and common childhood illness that most children catch at some point.

It causes a rash of red, itchy spots that turn into fluid-filled blisters. They then crust over to form scabs, which eventually drop off.

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.

Read more about the symptoms of chickenpox and watch a slideshow of common childhood conditions to help you recognise if your child has it.

Chickenpox (known medically as varicella) is caused by a virus called the varicella-zoster virus. It's spread quickly and easily from someone who is infected.

Read more about the causes of chickenpox.

Chickenpox is most common in children under the age of 10. In fact, chickenpox is so common in childhood that over 90% of adults are immune to the condition because they've had it before.

Children usually catch chickenpox in winter and spring, particularly between March and May.

What to do

To prevent spreading the infection, keep children off nursery or school until all their spots have crusted over.

Chickenpox is infectious from one to two days before the rash starts, until all the blisters have crusted over (usually five to six days after the start of the rash).

If your child has chickenpox, try to keep them away from public areas to avoid contact with people who may not have had it, especially people who are at risk of serious problems, such as newborn babies, pregnant women and anyone with a weakened immune system (for example, people having cancer treatment or taking steroid tablets).

Read more about what you need to do to stop chickenpox spreading.

Chickenpox treatment

Chickenpox in children is considered a mild illness, but your child will probably feel pretty miserable and irritable while they have it.

Your child may have a fever for the first few days of the illness. The spots can be incredibly itchy.

There is no specific treatment for chickenpox, but there are pharmacy remedies that can alleviate symptoms. These include paracetamol to relieve fever, and calamine lotion and cooling gels to ease itching.

In most children, the blisters crust up and fall off naturally within one to two weeks.

Read more about chickenpox treatments.

When to see a doctor

For most children, chickenpox is a mild illness that gets better on its own.

However, some children can become more seriously ill with chickenpox and need to see a doctor.

Contact your GP straight away if your child develops any abnormal symptoms, such as:

  • if the blisters on their skin become infected 
  • if your child has a pain in their chest or has difficulty breathing

Chickenpox in adults

Chickenpox may be a childhood illness, but adults can get it too. Chickenpox tends to be more severe in adults than children, and adults have a higher risk of developing complications.

As with children, adults with chickenpox should stay off work until all the spots have crusted over. They should seek medical advice if they develop any abnormal symptoms, such as infected blisters.

Adults with chickenpox may benefit from taking antiviral medicine if treatment is started early in the course of the illness. Read more about antivirals in the treatment of chickenpox.

Who's at special risk?

Some children and adults are at special risk of serious problems if they catch chickenpox. They include:

  • pregnant women
  • newborn babies
  • people with a weakened immune system

These people should seek medical advice as soon as they are exposed to the chickenpox virus or they develop chickenpox symptoms.

They may need a blood test to check if they are protected from (immune to) chickenpox.

Read more about immunity testing and the diagnosis of chickenpox in people at special risk.

Chickenpox in pregnancy

Chickenpox occurs in approximately 3 in every 1,000 pregnancies. It can cause serious complications for both the pregnant woman and her baby. See complications of chickenpox for further information on what to do if you are exposed to chickenpox during pregnancy.

Chickenpox and shingles

Once you have had chickenpox, you usually develop antibodies to the infection and become immune to catching it again. However, the virus that causes chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus, remains inactive (dormant) in your body's nerve tissues and can return later in life as an illness called shingles.

It's possible to catch chickenpox from someone with shingles, but not the other way around.

Read more about shingles.

Is there a vaccine against chickenpox?

There is a chickenpox vaccine, but it is not part of the routine childhood vaccination schedule. The vaccine is only offered to children and adults who are particularly vulnerable to chickenpox complications.

Read more about the chickenpox vaccine and why children in the UK aren't routinely vaccinated against chickenpox.

Common questions about chickenpox answered

How do you catch chickenpox?

How are chickenpox and shingles connected?

What are the risks of chickenpox during pregnancy?

How rare is chickenpox during pregnancy?

What should I do if I'm pregnant and I've been near someone with chickenpox?

Who can have the chickenpox vaccination?

Can I get chickenpox more than once?

Page last reviewed: 28/07/2014

Next review due: 28/07/2016

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Comments

The 46 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

doublexpresso said on 22 July 2014

I am 53, I last had chickenpox when 6, didn't co tract it when my daughters did 17 years ago, but here I am. It is a nuisance but now it is over a week since the spots started to appear (I am very covered in them) but they are not forming scabs (except for those I have accidentally burst). Any thoughts as to how much longer?

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Hoch28 said on 07 May 2014

As a 35 year old male, I caught chickenpox from my two-year old son who in turn got from nursery. Having never had the chickenpox before and being his primary carer, the moment he came down with them my wife would check me over twice a day. Bad luck but a cautionary tale.

In my experience, I would urge any adult that suspects that they have the chickenpox to immediately seek medical advice. In my case, I rang the GP and received an urgent appointment 12-hours after the discovery of the first spot. He prescribed me the antiviral drug 'aciclovir' to be taken five times a day. I obviously cannot write that the drug did not have the desired effect, but I do know that by day four of the illness no new spots appeared and I began to scab over by day six.

As with many others my symptoms began with flu-like maladies, e.g. headaches, mild fever etc. Perhaps in my case it was caught early enough for the antiviral to start working, but any adult that suspects they have the chickenpox should immediately seek medical advice. Do not let anyone minimise the situation.

In my view, it is reckless on the part of the NHS not to vaccinate children against the chickenpox. It may be a mild disease but we already vaccinate our children against other mild diseases and as with them chickenpox can manifest itself into a serious condition. It is a false economy to argue that vaccination would entail a higher risk of shingles when in fact every person who has had chickenpox carries that risk. What is more, the treatment for shingles is more expensive than the chickenpox.

The list of countries that require the vaccine extends beyond the standard Europe and the US. It is time that Britain ends the short-sightedness and focus on long-term health. At the very least, when a child is born and the little red book is handed over, they should note what vaccines are not provided by are available. It is reckless and needs to stop.

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AFSNHS said on 23 April 2014

I spent 2 days with my niece over the weekend who has since come out with blisters which have been confirmed as chickenpox. I have an autoimmune disease and have never had chickenpox so I rang the doctors yesterday as advised in this nhs article. The receptionist told me she never heard of the antibody test or any anti virus injection, it wasn't urgent and she didn't have any appointments anyway. I'm self employed and have a full week of appointments, I did explain this bit to Springfield Surgery reception (they must employ doctors as receptionists as they know so much) but it's not important. Let's just hope I haven't caught anything. I've had a temperature all night, does anyone think I should act on this or am I being paranoid, after all 'it's not very urgent carrying diseases around'

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Amit Tomar said on 22 February 2014

I'm 40. Never had chicken pox before. After twin 1 got infected couple of weeks back, I've been trying to find someone who could administer me the vaccine for a fee. No private hospital in Reading or Westcall or the pathetic nhs would help. They didn't even have a clue if the vaccination could be given to private paying clients by anyone. Finally found a travel clinic in beaconsfield and got the jab. Sadly, it came in a bit too late. I'm now down with chicken pox along with twin 2 and I doubt the vaccine is make any difference as it has to be administered within 3 days of first exposure.

Here I am covered with pox, can't eat or drink anything without crying and winching and all this could have been prevented easily. 3rd world countries are better in providing better health care than our fantastic NHS whose agenda seems to be "don't give a damn"

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misslogical said on 06 June 2013

makes you wonder. The vaccine does not give you protection. The only real complications from CP is when you are an adult. Why vaccinate children anyway? Would make more sense to vaccinate 20 yr olds! I find it mildly amusing how hysterical people get now when their child contracts CP.
Strange. Having chickenpox more than once used to be unheard of.

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upton2 said on 01 April 2013

my 2 and a haly year ols has just come out i chicken pox 3 weeks after her sister had it and she has a got the spots but has got a fever of 38 and not eatin < what should i do ?

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charlieB86 said on 19 June 2012

I got chicken pox at 24 years old never had it as a child it is honestly the worse i have ever felt in my life I had to have 3 weeks off work it when down my throat which lead to an emergency visit to the out of hours doctor i lost my voice for a few day I was so ill my son had to be looked after by his grandparents

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greebo001 said on 29 May 2012

You can catch chickenpox as many times as your body will allow it but once or twice is the average. It can be very mild or it can end in a trip to the hospital. Not spreading it and not going near those who have it will save a lot of problems for everyone.
Being exposed to it but not coming out in spots could mean you are carrying the virus.
Shopping, holidays & visiting people spreads this disease quickly. Think before you do any of these things! You may be contagious from a few days before spots or carrying it for up to 21 days after exposure.

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MissKM1 said on 25 May 2012

My 5 yr old daughter has chicken pox and as u all know they are very itchy. I was wondering if I could give her antihistamine to stop the itching as I've read u could in a old first aid book.

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montylou said on 10 May 2012

My eldest son, 4, was diagnosed with chicken pox on tuesday, my youngest, 2, has just finished a course of antibiotics to treat an ear infection and is showing no signs of chicken pox as of yet. Is it likely be will get them?! I go on holiday 31st of this month to disneyland and worry if he got them, would he be able to travel??

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chrisbecca2 said on 08 May 2012

it is possible 2 get the chicken pox more than once and my gp told me this when my daughter was diagnosed for the second time. my daughter has had it twice and i am now on to my 3rd dose of it. i have also had shingles. the last 2 doses weren,t as bad as the first but the shingles was awful. my daughter had spots head to toe both times at age 3 and 15.

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HelenM1983 said on 21 January 2012

My daughters child minder has just let me know that a little girl she looks after has chickenpox.
My little one isn't there on the same day as the girl who has it but will be around other children who are.

My little one is almost 4 months old - would you keep her away from childminders until its all cleared up?
Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
Thanks :-)

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Grannymuir57 said on 15 January 2012

My little grandson we think he has chickenpox he is only 10weeks old and he got his jabs this week. What should my daughter do to keep him comfortable

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vwscottie said on 03 October 2011

My 5 year old has just been diagnosed with CP, she has spots on either side of her face, she isn't unwell and seems normal, no temp, no cold, no nothing just the spots so I am not 100% convinced that she has it, how can I be sure? This site says she may just get a few spots, some children do but how do I know?

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vwscottie said on 03 October 2011

My 5 year old has just been diagnosed with CP, she has spots on either side of her face, she isn't unwell and seems normal, no temp, no cold, no nothing just the spots so I am not 100% convinced that she has it, how can I be sure? This site says she may just get a few spots, some children do but how do I know?

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sammie12 said on 26 August 2011

im 17, its the first time i've ever had chicken pox, and its horrible. Is it normal to feel sick and faint most of the time and feel very weak? some advice would be greatly appreciated because i dont really know what to do.
sammie

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LezelG said on 30 July 2011

After the chickenpox vaccine was released in 1995, one of the least deadly diseases in the nation became even less fatal, as reported by a recent study. Vaccinations work, and as the quantity of individuals inoculated against chickenpox rose, the number of fatalities fell. I found this here: <a title="Deaths from chickenpox plummet after vaccine struck market" href="http://www.newsytype.com/9310-chickenpox-vaccine/">Sharp drop in deaths from chickenpox credited to vaccine</a>.

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excitedhamster76 said on 27 June 2011

on Thursday my 5 yr old was confirmed as having chicken pox it was just in the early stages temp and rash of spots that hadn't formed, its now Monday and she's covered head to toe but they've all crusted over, how long before she can go back to school? its been 9 yrs since my oldest 3 had them and i can't remember. also is it possible my 8 yr old is immune to them? this is the 2nd time he's been with children with chicken pox and not shown any signs

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User550368 said on 25 April 2011

as a 35 year old male i suffered the same stigma as the 60 yr old lady whaen i went to the doctor all she could do was laugh a few days later i was rushed into a=e suffering from breathing problems due to the fact i had chickenpox and also a woman round the corner from me died from them so i guess the doctor wasn,t laughing then typical gps

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Tone2 said on 12 April 2011

I had first-time chickenpox when I was 60.
The NHS Direct "help line" was totally unable to help with any advice whatsoever for the problems of an adult. (So much for "help"!)
The "advisor" persisted in saying (or probably reading it without awareness!), "You should do ... for the child".
Despite my frequent reiteration that I was an adult who had the condition at the time, this was just ignored.
This situation really should be corrected!

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AmyJ28 said on 12 April 2011

My Mum is 50 and has had chicken pox 8 times and shingles 3 times. She was very worried that her lack of immunity would afftect my brother and I but although we both got very bad doses and were covered in spots, in my case even on the base of my feet and between my toes we've both only had it once each.

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SophieClare said on 27 February 2011

I had chickenpox when I was a child 3 times. I have 3 Children. My eldest (now 8), she had it only once as a toddler but she had it bad with black bruising on some. She caught it a week after my middle child when he was 1 (now 6) had it. He has had it and confirmed with the doctors 7 times. Now my youngest 2 has it. He so irritated by it. They are all over even on his gums & eyelids. This must be a bad batch is all I can say!

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beatnik69 said on 16 February 2011

I'm 36 and my 18 month old daughter has just caught chicken pox. I've never had it and my dad has never had it. Is it possible to have a natural immunity to the disease or is there a good chance that I'll catch it now?

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spottymuldoon said on 14 February 2011

cant believe it, im 46 yers old and have just been diagnosed with chicken pox for the 4th time!!!
1st time as a child and then 3 more times in the last 5 years so dont always believe you can only get them once....Only got a few spots so far, but this is only day 2 so there could be more to come. generally feeling unwell...headache, achy, weakness etc. Good old calamine (cream not lotion works better) and paracetamol to the rescue. drink plenty of fluids as well.

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lovrosie said on 09 February 2011

Hi I have had chicken pox twice as teenager the first time and early twenties the 2nd, neither of the times badly. I have 6 children ranging in ages from 22 down to 3 and all but the 3 year old have had chicken pox twice. One of them had it 3 times. Non of them had it badly, however my eldest has also had shingles despite being so young diagnosed by our GP. He also insists, as do all the other Doctors I have spoken to that you can not get it more than once!!Maybe the theory that it runs like this in families is true. I do wish however that Doctors would start to take notice of this, as they just make you feel like an idiot, when they tell you you have chicken pox but the time before mustn't have been cp despite a professional diagnosis at the time. Hope this is useful to someone!

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User524436 said on 01 February 2011

I've just caught chickenpox for the first time at 31! Had several exposures to the virus as a child but was always lucky. Started a week ago (Mon) with just two small red patches, by Thursday evening I had a few more and confirmed it with the nurse on Friday. Back in work tomorrow (Weds) I think and I'm not really that itchy, more bogged down with a heavy cold, think my immune system was vulnerable so it decided to use me as its latest host! Not sure whether I'm more or less likely to pick it up again, we'll see.

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DonaldK said on 12 January 2011

I'm 40 and just caught Chicken Pox for the second time from my two children. I never knew that it was possible to catch it more than once.
I first contracted it when I was a baby, (family remember me being 1 year old), and so it is thought I did not have chance to build up enough immunity to last me my life time.
Have any UK studies been carried out to get a feel for how many adults do contract Chicken Pox each year, and how many of those (us!) have either vague or even evidence that they have caught it at least once before?

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jjslb said on 01 January 2011

How can you tell the difference between shingles and chicken pox. This time its gone right round my body.

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RichardE said on 29 December 2010

At the age of 58 I'm now on bout number 7 plus one round of Shingles. This isn't the worst, that was the bout I had in 1993. This one is just uncomfortable but has produced all the classic symptoms of a fever before the spots, lack of appetite and then the classic spots.

My daughter has had it 4 times.

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kindley83 said on 21 November 2010

my 4 year old boy has just been diagnosed with chicken pox for the 6th time now, 1st time he was 2months old, he got high temp off food, so he on ibuprofen to keep temp down and calamine cream to so far he not itching, he is covered from neck down. lets just hope this is the last time

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sammie1973 said on 11 October 2010

My 20 month well today he is !! had chicken pox back in May diagnosed the day before he started walking!! and he now has it again!! I was so shocked as he has had it twice within 4 months. The first time he was covered in spots just like he is now plus he is quite poorly as well oh the joys!! I work for the NHS and I am unable to take any more carers days and I only have 4 days annual leave left unitl next march!! I had to use 12 extra days to cover his chicken pox from the 1st time and he had his spots for 3 weeks!! thank god for my hubby and his lieu time!!

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Anasmum said on 01 October 2010

I have had chicken pox many times, so has my brother. My little boy has it at the moment. Didn't have anything in the house to treat him with. Found an old tube of nipple cream with camomile in it. Worked a treat, much better than the camomile lotion I bought today as its not as drying.

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mazza nanna said on 13 September 2010

hi im 58 and have just been told by the doctor that i have chicken pox, so painful and itchy cant wait till its gone. Callomine and painkillers are helping can it turn into shingles?

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tiggerrmummy said on 06 August 2010

I dont know about getting Chicken pox more than once, but one part of the article is definately wrong. I had chicken pox at the age of 36. It was in July. And now, my 3year old has it... in July.

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lashgirl said on 06 July 2010

I have had several doctor diagnosed cases of the chicken pox and I had the vaccine at 5 years old. I made each doctor (at urban hospitals not small country offices) write it down so that I can argue with the next doctor who said you can only get it once. 5, 14, 24, 28 (the worst which left scars on my face) I got shingles in my 30's and am today going to see a doctor because I am covered in itchy lesions, rise and filled with clear liquid. Sound familiar? And no, I do not have HIV.

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jojomama said on 16 May 2010

Our 19 month old daughter has been poorly since 12th May, off her food and a temp around 100.5f. Today she has a rash all over her tummy, chest, throat and behind her ears. Small red pimply spots but no itching yet. May be cp. Neither my husband or I have had cp. Are we likely to get it, and/or pass it on to others? Should I go to work tomorrow?

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welshbabe said on 06 May 2010

my son has recently been diagnosed with chcickenpox for the 3rd time .he had a cold and sore throat which i thought was nothing until he came out in spots but he hasnt had many as last time so hopefully its a mild case.

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MayasMum said on 15 April 2010

Note to xxkerryxxx
I've had a similar experience this wk, my 14 month old started with a heavy cold last Thursday and on Sunday noticed a blister on her tummy, by following day had multiplied to about 10 on tummy an back, took to Dr's who suggested she had gastric flu and said rashes are a common side effect of viruses!
Next day spots spread all over body from chest and back to head, fingers and even soles of feet, suspected chicken pox and read online that most rife from March to May, usually starts on chest and back and was also told that the first blister is usually the biggest.
Cant for the life of me understand why the Dr couldn't have diagnosed this considering all the classic symptoms, were in the 5th day now, doesnt seem to be itchy but temp still up and down.

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emsNI said on 12 April 2010

Im 27 and am now on my 4th bout of chickenpox in my lifetime... its horrible as an adult as my pox are not itchy they are painful and have to be off work... My doctor says it is possible to have it more than once if you dont get it bad enough the 1st time to create immunity... well this is the worst ive had it so hopefully i get immune... was going to book a last minute holiday... damn chicken pox!!

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xxkerryxx said on 08 April 2010

i think my son of 10 months could have chicken pox ive been to doctors chemists and hospital and no one would tell me aht they were i ended up going back to a chemist who said it could be chicken pox got camomile lotion and o[put it on him tonite b4 bed he dosent seem to be itchy from them and just his normal self eating and drinking and playing but these spota are spreading there was 4 yesterday morning and the must be around 30 or more there mostly on the back of his head some on stomach and leg i hope someone can help me with this thanks kerry x

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User197120 said on 07 April 2010

Hi
My 12 year old son has had 5 confirmed cases of chickenpox!!!! My GP refuses blood tests but i find this odd. My GP himself said he has never heard of this? Don't be fooled by "once you have had them, you can't catch them again" My son is living proof, he seems to get it every spring. He has had 2 severe cases of it and 3 mild.

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schneidermum said on 31 March 2010

You definitely CAN get chickenpox twice. My 4 year old daughter had chickenpox for the first time 3 months ago, and today has been feeling poorly with a light temperature and a few spots around her shoulder and neck area.

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shadowdog2005 said on 31 March 2010

yes you can get chicken pox ore than once, i had them as child and again in my 30's, not as bad but still very uncomfortable. its good to know i can't catch it from my 6yr old daughter who as it at the moment. i tried the chicken pox gel and it did the job but found it does sting slightly. i also found it quite expensive aswell.
I looked on this web site to find out when my daughter can go out again without the worry of spreading it to other family members, there are so many differant stories of how long incubation period is.I found out it is when all the spots are crusted over.So now she can hug her 9month old niece.

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northantsmum said on 25 January 2010

I found some chickenpox relief cooling gel at the pharmacy that's helped a great deal. It stops the itching and scratching by cooling the skin down so it doesn't feel itchy any longer. It's worth looking out for, and much easier to apply than Calamine lotion.

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mifreedouth said on 05 January 2010

Yes, you CAN HAVE it TWICE! My child had a really bad bout of chicken pox eight months ago (took 2.5 weeks to get over) and today was diagnosed with it again. Seems like a much milder version though, no temperature and the spots are clustered in two areas on the trunk only... so far...
Couldn't believe it!

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karencook71 said on 24 June 2009

my nine month baby has had chickenpox since monday and this afternoon he has been vomiting quite a lot what should i do

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