What to do when your child gets chicken pox
Most children catch this common childhood illness at some point. It is caused by a virus and is spread quickly and easily through the coughs and sneezes of an infected person. It takes 7–21 days for the symptoms to show after you have come into contact with the virus. This is called the ‘incubation period’. Someone with chicken pox is most infectious 1–2 days before the rash appears until all of the blisters have crusted over. This usually takes 5–6 days from the start of the rash.
Chicken pox is most common in children under 10 years old and is so common in childhood that 90 per cent of adults are immune to it, as they have had it before. Children usually catch chicken pox in the winter and spring months, particularly between March and May. Due to chicken pox being so contagious, around 90 per cent of people who haven’t previously had it will become infected when they come into contact with the virus.
Some children only have a few spots but in others they can cover the entire body. It is possible to get chicken pox more than once, particularly if your child only had a mild case of it and not very many spots. Usually (in most cases) you develop antibodies to the infection first time round and become immune to catching it again. Some people simply don’t develop the antibodies needed to protect them against re-infection but experts generally agree that if you have had it once, then you are unlikely to get it again.
Pregnant women are at special risk of serious problems if they catch chicken pox, so if your toddler catches it and you haven’t already had the virus and are pregnant, seek medical advice as soon as you are exposed to the virus or develop chicken pox symptoms. You can ask for a blood test to check if you are already immune.
- Chicken pox usually starts with a high fever (38°C/100.4°F) for a few days before the rash appears.
- A rash of red, itchy spots that tend to appear in crops and turn into fluid-filled blisters – they then crust over to form scabs, which eventually drop off
- The spots first appear on the chest, back, head, ears, neck or scalp, then spread to under the arms, the belly, arms and legs – the spots won’t leave scars unless badly infected or your child is tempted to pick them. It is very important to discourage scratching or picking to prevent scarring. Distraction and using the treatment options below will help relieve itching and make your toddler less tempted to pick. When the itching is really driving your child mad then you can encourage them to pat the spots for a little relief, rather than scratch them, which may end up making them sore.
Chickenpox in children is considered a mild illness and in most cases your child will not need to see a GP. You can expect your child to feel pretty miserable and irritable while they have it and they are likely to have a fever for the first few days. The spots can be very itchy.
To help relieve symptoms for your child:
- Give infant paracetamol for any fever
- Many friends and family members will recommend you dab calamine lotion on the spots to relieve itching, although this is now not recommended medically as when it dries it stops being effective.
- Give Piriton as directed by your doctor or a pharmacist to relieve itching
- Use a product called Virasoothe that can be bought from your pharmacy. It is a cooling gel that helps
to relieve itching.
- Once the spots begin to scab over around day 5 onwards, your toddler will no longer be infectious and
they should brighten up a little.
When to see a doctor
If the blisters become infected or if your child has a pain in her chest or has difficulty breathing, seek
medical advice, as with any other symptoms you are worried about.
Please SHARE this post if you found it helpful and think it would also help other parents. What
treatments did you find helpful?