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Chickenpox in Children

Chickenpox is a very contagious disease caused by the varicella virus. The chickenpox virus is spread through the air by infected people when they sneeze or cough. The disease also spreads from touching the chickenpox blisters without careful hand washing afterwards.

After infection, the virus stays in the body for life. The virus can later cause shingles, which causes a painful, blistering rash on one side of the body. Touching the fluid in the shingles blisters can spread chickenpox to someone who has not had chickenpox.

Symptoms usually appear 10 to 21 days after exposure to the virus. The symptoms include:

  • aches and pains
  • tiredness
  • fever, and
  • small blisters on the skin, which later break open, form a scab, and begin to itch

Chickenpox is contagious 1 to 2 days before the rash appears. It continues to be contagious until all of the blisters have crusted over, which usually takes 4 to 5 days. Children are most commonly ill for about 5 to 10 days. They usually miss 5 or 6 days of school or childcare due to chickenpox.

Tips to help relieve the symptoms of chickenpox include:

  • Give your child a lukewarm bath. Add baking soda or oatmeal to the water.
  • Pat your child's skin dry. Do not rub with the towel.
  • Use calamine lotion on the skin to help the itch. Do not use calamine on the face.
  • Put a towel-covered ice pack or cool, moist washcloth on itchy areas for 20 to 30 minutes several times a day to decrease the itchy feeling.
  • If the itch is very bad, talk to your provider about how to treat your child.
  • Give acetaminophen for pain or fever. Do not give aspirin or ibuprofen. Check with your healthcare provider before you give medicine that contains aspirin or salicylates to a child or teen because of the risk for a serious illness called Reye's syndrome.
  • Trim your child's fingernails. Try to keep your child from scratching the spots. Put socks or cotton gloves on your child to protect the skin if they do scratch.
  • If blisters are in the mouth, give your child foods that are cool, soft, and bland. Avoid salty foods and citrus fruits like orange juice.
  • Keep your child inside and away from other people who have not had chickenpox.

A vaccine is available to protect against chickenpox and is routinely given to children.

Disclaimer: This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information provided is intended to be informative and educational and is not a replacement for professional medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.

HIA File infd3805.htm Release 13/2010

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