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What is chickenpox?Chickenpox is a very infectious illness caused by one of a group of herpes viruses. It causes a distinctive rash and mild flu-like symptoms.
Most children will get chickenpox when they are young and it is usually a mild illness. Once your baby has caught the virus, it can take between 10 days and 21 days for symptoms to show. Your baby will then be infectious from about two days before the rash appears until all the spots have dried up. This usually takes about five days (CKS 2008, HPA n.d, NHS 2012, Kenny 2012). If your baby goes to nursery or childcare, keep him at home for five days from when the rash first appears (HPA 2010).
How did my baby catch chickenpox?An infected person sneezing or being in close contact with your baby could have given him chickenpox (CKS 2008, NHS 2012). Your baby could also have got chickenpox just by being in the same room as someone with the virus (Kenny 2012).
It’s also possible to catch chickenpox from someone who has shingles (CKS 2008). Shingles is caused by the same virus as chickenpox.
What are the symptoms of chickenpox?Chickenpox usually starts with mild flu-like symptoms:
- aches and pains
- loss of appetite
A couple of days later, the chickenpox rash appears. It starts as little red spots that develop tiny blisters on the top within a few hours. You’ll notice them first on your baby’s face. The spots will spread to his chest and tummy, and then to other parts of his body, appearing in crops.
There may be so many spots and blisters that they will appear to run into one another, or there may just be a few spots. The spots are likely to be most sore on his scalp, in his mouth and throat, and around his genitals.
How to treat your baby's rash
Could your baby's rash be eczema, impetigo or meningitis? Find out more with this video on baby and toddler rashes.More baby videos
Should I take my baby to the doctor?Take your baby to the doctor if you think he has chickenpox. Your doctor will be able to diagnose chickenpox by checking your baby’s spots and blisters.
If your baby is less than four weeks old, take him to the doctor if he’s been in contact with anyone with chickenpox, or if he’s showing symptoms. Chickenpox can be more dangerous and can cause complications in very young babies (CKS 2008, Kenny 2012).
Is there any treatment for chickenpox?Chickenpox is a virus, so won’t respond to antibiotics. It will go away on its own, but you can help to relieve your baby’s symptoms with some treatments at home.
You can give your baby infant paracetamol to lower his temperature and relieve his aches and pains. Your baby can have infant paracetamol from two months, as long as he was born after 37 weeks and weighs more than 4kg (9lb) (MHRA 2011). Check the dosage information on the packet, or ask your doctor or pharmacist.
Doctors are more cautious about recommending infant ibuprofen, as it may increase the risk of your baby either developing an infection in his spots, or of making an existing infection worse(Kenny 2012, Mikaeloff et al 2008). Infections like this are uncommon, but they can lead to serious illness.
You can also:
- Give your baby plenty of fluids to prevent him getting dehydrated. Offer him extra breast or bottle feeds. If he is formula-fed or on solids, he can have water too (CKS 2008, NHS 2012, Kenny 2012).
- To soothe your baby’s itchy spots, you can use calamine lotion (CKS 2008, NHS 2012).
- If your baby is over one year old and the itching is particularly troublesome at night, your doctor may prescribe the antihistamine chlorphenamine. This also has a sedating effect which may help your baby to sleep more easily (Kenny 2012).
- Keep your baby’s nails short if he keeps scratching himself. This will help to prevent the spots from becoming infected and reduce the likelihood of scarring.
- Dress your baby in loose, cotton clothing to keep his skin cool and reduce itching (NHS 2012).
Can I catch chickenpox from my baby?If you have never had chickenpox before, you could catch it from your baby. It can be more serious in adults, so see your doctor if you think you have it.
If you've had chickenpox before, chances are you won’t get it again. But as adults, we can carry the herpes virus that causes chickenpox in our bodies. Sometimes, if we become a bit run-down, the virus will be triggered, and we’ll have symptoms. These will appear as a different form of the virus, known as shingles.
Is chickenpox dangerous for pregnant women?If your baby has chickenpox, keep him away from pregnant women who have not had chickenpox before as it can cause problems for an unborn baby. Read our article on chickenpox in pregnancy for more information.
Last reviewed: May 2013
Bupa. 2011. Chickenpox. Bupa Health Information. hcd2.bupa.co.uk [Accessed March 2013]
CKS. 2008. NHS Clinical Knowledge Summaries. Clinical topic – Chickenpox. cks.nhs.uk [Accessed March 2013]
HPA. N.d. Health Protection Agency. Chickenpox – varicella zoster: general information. hpa.org.uk [Accessed March 2013]
HPA. 2010. Health Protection Agency. Guidance on infection control in schools and other childcare settings. hpa.org.uk [pdf file, accessed March 2013]
Kenny, T. 2012. Chickenpox in children under 12. patient.co.uk [Accessed May 2013]
MHRA. 2011. Paracetamol: updated dosing for children to be introduced. Drug safety update. Medicines and Healthcare Products Regularity Agency. mhra.gov.uk [accessed September 2014]
Mikaeloff Y, Kezouh A, Suissa S. 2008. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug use and the risk of severe skin and soft. Br J Clin Pharmacol 65(2):203-9 ncbi.nlm.nih.gov [pdf file, accessed May 2013]
NHS. 2012. Chickenpox. NHS Choices. nhs.uk [Accessed March 2013]