Chickenpox is a common childhood illness which is generally considered to be mild. It usually gets better by itself after one to two weeks without having to see the GP. People usually catch chickenpox in the winter and spring.
Symptoms of chickenpox
The main symptom of chickenpox is an itchy, spotty rash which can be found anywhere on the body including inside the mouth and around the genitals. Chickenpox happens in 3 stages:
Stage 1 – Small spots appear on the body
Stage 2 - The spots will fill with fluid and become blisters which are very itchy and may burst
Stage 3 – The spots will form a scab. Some scabs leak fluid, some are flaky. In most cases, the blisters crust up and fall off naturally within one to two weeks.
Before or after the rash appears, you may also get a high temperature, runny nose, cough, aches and pains and loss of appetite.
There is no specific treatment for chickenpox but there are pharmacy remedies that may alleviate symptoms which include paracetamol to relieve fever, and calamine lotion and cooling gels to ease itching.
How is chickenpox spread?
Chickenpox is highly infectious and is spread by respiratory secretions or by direct contact with fluid from blisters. People with chickenpox are generally infectious from two days before the rash appears and until all blisters have crusted over (usually five to six days after the start of the rash).
People who are more at risk of chickenpox
Some children and adults are at higher risk of serious problems if they catch chickenpox, including:
- pregnant women
- new-born babies
- people with a weakened immune system
These people should seek medical advice as soon as they are exposed to chickenpox or if they develop chickenpox symptoms. They may need a blood test to check if they are protected (immune) from chickenpox.
Staying off school or work
Exclusion is recommended. People with chickenpox will need to stay away from school, nursery, or work until all the spots have formed a scab.
When to see the GP
See the GP if you’re not sure if it's chickenpox or if you’re concerned about your child, remember to tell the receptionist that it might be chickenpox before going into a GP surgery.
Parents or carers should seek immediate medical advice if the person with chickenpox is seriously ill or if they develop any abnormal symptoms such as:
- the blisters becoming infected
- a pain in their chest or difficulty breathing