Chickenpox is a common childhood illness, especially in kids under age 12. It’s caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), and is very contagious. Kids who get it might have an itchy rash of spots all over the body and flu-like symptoms. An infected child should stay home and rest until the rash is gone.
Chickenpox often starts with a fever, headache, sore throat, or stomachache. These symptoms may last for a few days, with the fever in the 101°-102°F (38.3°-38.8°C) range.
Chickenpox causes a red, itchy skin rash that usually appears first on the abdomen or back and face, and then spreads to almost everywhere else on the body, including the scalp, mouth, arms, legs, and genitals.
The rash begins as multiple small red bumps that look like pimples or insect bites, usually less than a quarter of an inch wide. They appear in crops over 2 to 4 days and develop into thin-walled blisters filled with fluid. The blister walls break, leaving open sores, which finally crust over to become dry, brown scabs. The rash is very itchy, and cool baths or calamine lotion may help to manage the itching.
Young kids tend to have a mild illness with fewer blisters than older children or adults.
In very rare cases, serious bacterial infections involving the skin, lungs, bones, joints, and the brain can happen.
How is it spread?
The chickenpox virus spreads both through the air (by coughing and sneezing) and by direct contact with mucus, saliva (spit), or fluid from the blisters. Chickenpox is contagious from about 2 days before the rash appears until all the blisters are crusted over.
A child with chickenpox should be kept out of school until all blisters have dried, usually about 1 week.
Chickenpox is very contagious — most kids with a sibling who's been infected also will get it (if they haven't already had the disease or the vaccine), showing symptoms about 2 weeks after the first child does. To help keep it from spreading, make sure your kids wash their hands often, particularly before eating and after using the bathroom.
People who haven't had chickenpox or the vaccine also can catch it from someone with shingles, but they cannot catch shingles itself. That's because shingles can only develop from a reactivation of VZV in someone who has previously had chickenpox.
Certain groups of people are more at risk for complications from chickenpox, including pregnant women and anyone with immune system problems. These groups should avoid anyone who has chickenpox.
Chicken pox is caused by a virus and so antibiotics won’t help clear it up, luckily there are a number of homeopathic remedies that will help relieve the symptoms(!) as well as some practical tips listed below:
Use cool wet compresses or give baths in cool or lukewarm water every 3 to 4 hours for the first few days. Porridge in the bath will help calm the skin (put some porridge in a sock and run the bath water through it!)
Pat (don't rub) the body dry
Put calamine lotion on itchy areas (but don't use it on the face, especially near the eyes)
Serve foods that are cold, soft, and bland because chickenpox in the mouth can make drinking or eating difficult. Avoid feeding your child anything highly acidic or especially salty, like orange juice or pretzels.
Never use aspirin to reduce pain or fever in kids with chickenpox because aspirin has been associated with a rare but serious disease, Reye syndrome, which can lead to liver failure and even death.
As much as possible, discourage kids from scratching. This can be difficult for them, so consider putting mittens or socks on your child's hands to prevent scratching during sleep. Also, trim fingernails and keep them clean to help lessen the effects of scratching, including broken blisters and infection.
Most chickenpox infections don't need special medical treatment. But sometimes, there are problems. Call the doctor if your child:
has fever that lasts for more than 4 days or rises above 102°F (38.8°C)
has a severe cough or trouble breathing
has an area of rash that leaks pus (thick, yellowish fluid) or becomes red, warm, swollen, or sore
has a severe headache
is unusually drowsy or has trouble waking up
has trouble looking at bright lights
has difficulty walking
seems very ill or is vomiting
has a stiff neck
Call your doctor if you think your child has chickenpox and you have a question or are concerned about a possible complication. The doctor can guide you in watching for complications and in choosing medicine to ease itching.
If you take your child to the doctor, let the office know in advance that your child might have chickenpox. It's important to try to avoid exposing other kids in the office — for some of them, a chickenpox infection could cause severe complications.