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What is chickenpox?

Chickenpox is an infection caused by the varicella virus. Chickenpox is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It is also spread when you or your child touch the fluid that comes out of chickenpox blisters.

What are the signs and symptoms of chickenpox?

A rash usually appears on your child's chest, back, and scalp first. The rash then spreads to the arms and legs. It begins as itchy, red bumps. The bumps form blisters that are filled with fluid. The blisters then break and crust over. New blisters may continue to form for up to 4 days. It takes about 2 weeks for all the crusts and scabs to fall off. Your child may also have any of the following:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Mouth sores

How is chickenpox diagnosed and treated?

Your child's healthcare provider can usually diagnose chickenpox based on your child's symptoms and a physical exam. The goal of treatment is to decrease your child's symptoms. He or she may need any of the following:

  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to give your child and how often to give it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines your child uses to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your child's doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • Antihistamines help decrease itching. They are available without a doctor's order. Follow directions. These medicines can make your child sleepy.

How can I manage my child's symptoms?

  • Help relieve your child's itching. A bacterial skin infection or scars may develop if your child scratches or picks at his or her rash. The following may help relieve your child's itching:
    • Apply calamine lotion on your child's rash. Follow the directions on the label. Do not use this lotion on sores inside your child's mouth.
    • Give your child baths in lukewarm water. Add ½ cup of baking soda or uncooked oatmeal to the water. Let your child bathe for about 30 minutes. Do this several times a day.
    • Trim your child's fingernails. Put gloves or socks on his or her hands, especially at night. Wash his or her hands with germ-killing soap to prevent a bacterial infection.
    • Keep your child cool. The itching can get worse if your child sweats.
  • Help relieve painful mouth sores. You may be given medicine to put on your child's mouth sores. These may include numbing gels or an antacid solution. Use these medicines before he or she eats or drinks. Avoid spicy, salty, hot, or sour foods.
  • Give your child liquids as directed. Liquids help prevent dehydration. Ask how much liquid your child should drink each day and which liquids are best. Good liquids include water, juice, or broth. Your child may need an oral rehydration solution (ORS). An ORS has the right amounts of water, salts, and sugar needed to replace body fluids.
  • Help your child rest. He or she should rest as much as possible and get plenty of sleep.

What can I do to prevent the spread of chickenpox?

Keep your child away from others. He or she will need to stay home from school or daycare until the blisters are crusted over. This usually takes about 1 week. Ask your child's healthcare provider about the chickenpox vaccine.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • Your child has trouble breathing or is breathing faster than usual.
  • Your child has a seizure.

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • Your child is confused or more clumsy than usual.
  • The rash spreads to one or both of your child's eyes.
  • The blisters get red, warm, tender, or drain yellow or white fluid.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

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