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Chickenpox

Chickenpox is common and mostly affects children, although you can get it at any age. It usually gets better by itself after 1 to 2 weeks without needing to see a GP.

Coronavirus

At the moment it can be hard to know what to do if your child is unwell. 

It's important to trust your instincts and get medical help if you need it.

Check if it's chickenpox

Small red spots, shown on white skin.
1. Chickenpox starts with red spots. They can appear anywhere on the body and might spread or stay in a small area.
Small red bumps filled with fluid, shown on white skin.
2. The spots fill with fluid and become blisters. The blisters may burst.
Small red spots with a scab in the centre. Some are flaky while others are weepy. Shown on white skin.
3. The spots scab over. New spots might appear while others are becoming blisters or forming a scab.

Other symptoms

You might get symptoms before or after the spots appear, including:

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

Chickenpox is very itchy and can make children feel miserable, even if they do not 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

How to treat chickenpox at home

Important

You'll need to stay away from school, nursery or work until all the spots have crusted over.

This is usually 5 days after the spots appeared.

Do

  • drink plenty of fluid (try ice lollies if your child is not 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 a pharmacy

  • speak to a pharmacist about using antihistamine medicine to help itching

  • bathe in cool water and pat the skin dry (do not rub)

  • dress in loose clothes

  • check with your airline if you're going on holiday – many airlines will not allow you to fly with chickenpox

Don’t

  • do not use ibuprofen unless advised to do so by a doctor, as it may cause serious skin infections

  • do not give aspirin to children under 16

  • do not be around pregnant women, newborn babies and people with a weakened immune system, as chickenpox can be dangerous for them

Non-urgent advice: 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.

Information:

Coronavirus update: how to contact a GP

It's still important to get help from a GP if you need it. To contact your GP surgery:

  • visit their website
  • use the NHS App
  • call them

Find out about using the NHS during coronavirus

Urgent advice: Get advice from 111 now if:

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

You may need medicine to prevent complications. You need to take it within 24 hours of the spots appearing.

111 will tell you what to do. They can arrange a phone call from a nurse or doctor if you need one.

Go to 111.nhs.uk or call 111.

Other ways to get help

Get an urgent GP appointment

A GP may be able to treat you.

Ask your GP surgery for an urgent appointment.

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 them.

How long chickenpox is infectious for

Chickenpox is infectious from 2 days before the spots appear, until they have all crusted over – usually 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 a GP if you have not had chickenpox and have 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 if you spread the virus to them.

For example, a child can be vaccinated if 1 of their parents is having chemotherapy.

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

Shingles and chickenpox

You cannot catch shingles from someone with chickenpox.

You can catch chickenpox from someone with shingles if you have not had chickenpox before.

When you get chickenpox, the virus stays in your body. The virus can be triggered again if your immune system is weak. This cause shingles.

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

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Page last reviewed: 27 November 2020
Next review due: 27 November 2023