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Health Information For Parents
Chickenpox is a viral infection that causes fever and an itchy rash with spots all over the body.
It used to be a common childhood illness in the United States, especially in kids under age 12. It’s much rarer now, thanks to the varicella vaccine.
Chickenpox often starts without the classic rash, 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.
The red, itchy skin rash usually starts on the belly or back and face. Then it spreads to almost everywhere else on the body, including the scalp, mouth, arms, legs, and genitals.
The rash begins as many small red bumps that look like pimples or insect bites. They appear in waves over 2 to 4 days, then develop into thin-walled blisters filled with fluid. The blister walls break, leaving open sores, which finally crust over to become dry, brown scabs.
All three stages of the chickenpox rash (red bumps, blisters, and scabs) appear on the body at the same time. The rash may spread wider or be more severe in kids who have weak immune systems or skin disorders like eczema.
Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). This virus also can cause a painful skin rash called shingles (herpes zoster) later in life. After someone has had chickenpox, the virus stays dormant (resting) in the nervous system for the rest of their life. The virus can reactivate (“wake up”) later as shingles.
Kids who are vaccinated against chickenpox are much less likely to develop shingles when they get older.
Chickenpox is very contagious. Most kids with a sibling who’s infected also will get it (if they haven’t already had the infection or the vaccine), showing symptoms about 2 weeks after the first child does.
Someone with chickenpox can spread the virus:
Chickenpox is contagious from about 2 days before the rash starts until all the blisters are crusted over.
Someone with shingles can spread chickenpox (but not shingles) to people who haven’t had chickenpox or the vaccine.
Because chickenpox is so contagious, a child who has it should stay home and rest until the rash is gone and all blisters have dried. This usually takes about 1 week. If you’re unsure about whether your child is ready to return to school, ask your doctor.
Some people are more at risk for complications from chickenpox, including:
If they are exposed to chickenpox, they might be given a medicine (zoster immune globulin) to make the illness less severe.
Yes. Most people who get the chickenpox vaccine will not get chickenpox. And if they do get chickenpox, their symptoms will be much milder.
Doctors recommend that kids get the chickenpox vaccine as:
People 6 years of age and older who have never had chickenpox and aren’t vaccinated can and should get two doses of the vaccine.
Kids who have had chickenpox do not need the vaccine — they usually have lifelong protection against the illness.
Doctors usually can diagnose chickenpox by looking at the telltale rash.
Call your doctor if you think your child has chickenpox. 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 staff know ahead of time that your child might have chickenpox. It’s important not to expose other kids in the office — for some of them, a chickenpox infection could cause serious complications.
causes chickenpox, so antibiotics can’t treat it. But antibiotics are needed if
infect the sores. This can happen when kids scratch and pick at the blisters.
An antiviral medicine might be prescribed for people with chickenpox who are at risk for complications. The depends on the:
Your doctor can tell you if the medicine is right for your child.
To help relieve the itchiness and discomfort of chickenpox:
To prevent scratching:
If your child has blisters in the mouth:
Never give aspirin to kids with chickenpox. It can lead to a serious illness called Reye syndrome.
Most chickenpox infections don’t need special medical treatment. But sometimes, problems can happen. Call the doctor if your child:
Shingles is the same virus as the one that gives people chickenpox. It can cause sores or blisters on the body and is very painful.
Chickenpox can make you itch like crazy. Find out why in this article for kids.
Herpes zoster, also called shingles, causes a rash with blisters on the body and is very painful.
Chickenpox (varicella) has become less common in the U.S. due to the chickenpox vaccine, but it can easily spread from one person to another.
If you’re old enough to read this, you’ve probably had most of your shots. But even bigger kids may need a shot once in a while. Find out more about them in this article for kids.
Find out when and why your child needs to get this vaccine.
Shingles isn’t very common in kids – it mostly affects older people. Find out what causes shingles, symptoms to watch for, and what to do if your child has it.
Chickenpox is a virus that causes red, itchy bumps. Find out more in this article for kids.
Which vaccines does your child need and when? Use this immunization schedule as a handy reference.
Immunizations protect kids from many dangerous diseases. Find out what vaccines your child needs to grow up healthy.
Fevers happen when the body’s internal “thermostat” raises the body temperature above normal. This is often the body’s way of fighting infections.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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