Chickenpox Symptoms: What To Look For

Chickenpox is a common childhood illness, so common in fact that nine out of 10 children will have had it before the age of 10.

How can I tell if my child has chickenpox?

The most easily recognisable symptom of chickenpox is an itchy red rash.

Spots tend to appear in clusters and can be anywhere on the body, even inside the ears and mouth. ​Some children may get just a few spots, but others will end up covered from head to toe. The spots start small, but after about 12 to 14 hours they develop a blister on top and become intensely itchy.

But the rash isn't the first sign of chickenpox. Before it appears your child may have mild flu-like symptoms including: nausea, a high temperature (38ºC or over), aching muscles, headache and loss of appetite.

Unfortunately, symptoms don't appear straight away and your child could have had the virus for up to 21 days before showing any sign of having chickenpox.

If your child's temperature is higher than normal and they've developed an itchy rash which blisters and scabs, you can be pretty sure they have chickenpox.

However, occasionally the rash can be confused with other conditions that affect the skin, such as insect bites or scabies. If you are unsure whether your child has chickenpox contact your GP.

How did my child get chickenpox?

The chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster) is spread in the same way as colds and flu - but it's even more contagious. As a general rule of thumb, if your child has been face-to-face with someone who has chickenpox or scabies, or has been in the same room for an infected person for 15 minutes or longer, then they will have been exposed to the virus for long enough to potentially catch it.

They may also have come into contact with the virus by touching an object, such as a toy or blanket, that has previously been touched by a person with chickenpox.

Chickenpox is most infectious from one to two days before the rash appears, until all the blisters have crusted over.

What should I do if my child has chickenpox?

In most cases chickenpox will clear up on it's own within a couple of weeks. Just ensure your child gets plenty of rest and keep them well hydrated.

There is no need to visit your GP, unless you or your child has a weakened immune system or you are unsure whether your child's rash is caused by chickenpox or another condition. If your baby is under four weeks old, see a GP immediately (see below).

Check out our guide to chickenpox treatment for advice on easing fever, aches and the incessant itching.

You should take steps to prevent the virus from spreading to others. Inform your child's school or nursery and keep your child at home for five days or until the last of their spots has scabbed over.

Is there anything else I should watch out for?

Contact your GP straight away if the skin surrounding the blisters becomes red and painful, if your child has a pain in the chest, or is having difficulty breathing. In these cases your child may need medication and possibly hospital treatment.

Is chickenpox more serious in babies?

If your baby is under four weeks old when they contract chickenpox, you should contact your GP straight away as the virus can cause serious complications in such young children if left untreated.

I'm pregnant, and I've been near a child with chickenpox, should I be concerned?

Chickenpox in pregnancy can occasionally cause complications. It slightly increases your risk of developing pneumonia and there is a small risk to your baby.

If you've had chickenpox before, you should be immune to the virus, so there's no need to worry unless you develop a rash. But if you've never had chickenpox you should speak to your GP or midwife immediately.

You should also contact your GP if you have been in contact with someone with chickenpox or shingles while you are breastfeeding or within seven days of giving birth.

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