Can A Parent Of A Child With Chickenpox Pass It On? We Asked Health Experts

Has chickenpox found its way into your household? Here's what you need to know.
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Chickenpox season is here once more – much to the delight of parents (and their poor kids) up and down the country.

While we all know children should most definitely be off school and nursery when they’re down with chickenpox, it can be a little harder to work out whether we – as adults – can still be heading to work or going about our usual business if we’re not infected.

To help clear things up, we’ve spoken to a doctor and pharmacist about the signs of the virus, how to treat it and whether parents can pass the virus on to others.

Symptoms of chickenpox

As many of us know – either from having chickenpox as a child, or watching your own children struggle with it – the key symptom of the virus is an itchy, spotty rash which can appear anywhere on the body.

The illness occurs in a few different stages. Firstly, small spots might appear on the body including inside the mouth and around the genitals. They tend to be red, pink, darker or the same colour as surrounding skin, and can be harder to see on brown and black skin, according to the NHS.

Just before the spots appear, a child might also develop a high temperature, aches and pains, and loss of appetite – although this can also happen after the rash has appeared.

Over the next few days, the spots fill with fluid and become blisters. These are very itchy and may burst. Eventually they scab over.

Treatment for chickenpox

Unfortunately there isn’t a cure for chickenpox so it’s simply a case of waiting it out. That said, there are things you can do to try and alleviate the symptoms.

Topical applications such as calamine lotion and antihistamine can help to relieve itching, according to Dr Daniel Gordon, a private GP in London.

He adds that children with specific medical conditions which lower their immunity may be offered antiviral medications by their doctor or specialist team.

Jana Abelovska, superintendent pharmacist at Click Pharmacy, says one way to help reduce the pain and itching is by taking paracetamol, as it’s suitable for children and can also be found in liquid form for children that are unable to swallow tablets.

The whole illness can take about 7-10 days to fully settle, but the most infectious period is from 24 hours before the rash starts until around five days after.

A word of warning: you shouldn’t give a child ibuprofen unless advised by a doctor because it could prompt serious skin infections. And you also shouldn’t give aspirin to children under 16.

The NHS also recommends people with chickenpox: drink plenty of fluids, cut fingernails to stop them from hurting themselves scratching, bathe in cool water and pat the skin dry afterwards, and dress in loose clothes.

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When can my child go back to school after having chickenpox?

Your child will need to stay off school or nursery until all the spots have formed a scab. This is usually five days after the spots have appeared.

If you also have caught chickenpox, you’ll need to stay away from work.

If you’re unsure whether your child should return to school, it’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor through an online appointment, says Abelovska, so you’re not risking the health of anyone who’s immunocompromised at school.

“If your child is not showing any signs of improvement after a week, it’s always best to consult with your doctor to determine whether medications may need to be prescribed,” she adds.

Can a parent pass it on?

This is what we all want to know the answer to – if your child (or children) have chickenpox but you don’t catch it, are you still likely to spread it to other people? The general consensus from health experts is no, providing you’ve had the virus before or have had two doses of the varicella vaccine.

Dr Gordon says: “The overwhelming majority of adults are immune to chickenpox, unless they didn’t have the infection as a child.

“An immune adult is much less likely to pass on the virus themselves, as they cannot become infectious.”

Dr Daniel Atkinson, GP clinical lead at Treated, says parents who haven’t had chickenpox or two doses of the chickenpox vaccine – and whose child has a confirmed infection – should stay at home as you can become infected and then be infectious to others.

If you’re pregnant, he advises you to speak to your GP as you might need to have a blood test.

To avoid any unintentional spread of the infection through surfaces such as bedding and toys, these should be regularly washed. And it’s also important to practice good hand hygiene.

Importantly, adds Dr Gordon, you should avoid people with reduced immune systems. For example, those having chemotherapy, pregnant people and newborn babies, as these groups can suffer serious complications from chickenpox.