Print this page | E-mail this page

Chickenpox

Your child has a very contagious infection known as chickenpox. This infection is caused by the varicella zoster virus and is most common in children ages 2-10 years. Chickenpox is most common in late winter and early spring. Chickenpox may be spread from an infected person through the air that we breathe or by contact with the rash.

What you may see in your child:

  • Fever, tiredness and irritability for 1-2 days before the rash appears
  • The rash usually starts on the stomach, back, face, and head
  • It may take 4-5 days for your child's rash to fully develop
  • The rash will look like mosquito bites at first, and then change to look like blisters, and end with the rash scabbing over
  • Your child may have all stages of the rash at the same time and may have as many as 100-300 sores
  • Sores may occur inside the mouth, nose, ears or vagina
  • Itching and tiredness once the rash appears
  • Decreased appetite
  • Low grade fever, cough, and runny nose
  • Complaints of muscle and/or joint pain

Home care:

  • Let your child's doctor know that he/she has chickenpox.
  • Teach your child not to scratch and keep him/her cool which decreases the desire to itch.
  • Keep fingernails short and clean.
  • Clean socks or cotton mittens may be placed over the child's hands if your child is scratching the sores.
  • Bathe your child twice a day in cool water. Add baking soda or Aveeno to the bath water.
  • For fever, you may give acetaminophen (Tylenol®). Follow the directions on the package or as given by your child's doctor. (Do not give your child any product that contains aspirin. Products that contain ibuprofen such as Motrin®, etc. should also be avoided.)
  • Apply calamine lotion to the rash to reduce itching. Do not use Caladryl® lotion unless directed by your child's doctor.
  • If your child has problems with itching, you may give Benadryl. Follow the directions for dosage written on the box. (Do not use Caladryl® and Benadryl® together at any time.)
  • Make sure your child gets plenty of liquids (juice, soda, popsicles, Jello, water, Gatorade®, Pedialyte®).
  • Your child should stay home until all of the sores are scabbed over.

When to call your child's doctor:

  • The sores do not heal, become more reddened and/or have drainage coming from them
  • Your child complains of pain or tenderness from any of the sores after 3-5 days
  • Your child has a fever after 5 days
  • Your child does not return to his/her normal level of activity within 7 days
  • Your child does not seem better or seems to get worse
  • You have any questions or concerns

Other things that you should know about chickenpox:

  • Children are contagious 2 days before the spots show and until all the spots are scabbed over. If you know when your child was exposed to someone with chickenpox you can expect him/her to breakout between the 10th and 21st day from exposure. Some children who have lowered immunity and have received immunoglobulin may break out from 10-28 days after exposure.
  • For most children, chickenpox is not a serious illness. However, for some people chickenpox can be a deadly disease. People who are being treated for cancer, organ transplant patients, or other illnesses that make the immune system weak are very much in danger when exposed to chickenpox. Because of this, please do not take your child out in public if you know that he/she has chickenpox.
  • Once your child has had chickenpox, he/she usually will never get it again. However, a person who has had chickenpox may develop a painful rash called shingles (herpes zoster) years later.
  • Chickenpox vaccine is the best way to protect against chickenpox. Children between 12-15 months of age should have the first dose of the chickenpox vaccine. A second dose of the vaccine will be given between 4 -6 years of age. A second dose of vaccine is also recommended for children older than 4-6 years of age if they only received on dose previously.
  • Older children and adults who have not had chickenpox or the vaccine should be immunized.
  • If your child is a patient in the hospital and has chickenpox or was exposed to chickenpox, he/she will be placed in isolation. Parents who have not had chickenpox should inform the nurse. Other adult visitors who have never had chickenpox should not visit. Children will not be permitted to visit. Check with your child's nurse if you have any questions.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.

Reviewed: 07/2008