What is chickenpox?
Chickenpox is a disease caused by a virus. It is highly contagious. If your child has chickenpox, then your child was exposed to the virus 14 to 16 days earlier.
Symptoms of chickenpox include:
How long does it last?
- multiple small, red bumps that become thin-walled water blisters; then cloudy blisters or open sores; and finally dry, brown crusts (all within 24 hours)
- sores or crusts that are usually less than 1/4 inch across
- rash that is on all body surfaces, but usually starts on head and back
- some sores possibly in the mouth, eyelids, and genital area
- fever (unless the rash is mild).
New sores will continue to crop up daily for 4 to 5 days.
The fever is usually the highest on the third or fourth day. Children start to feel better and stop having a fever once they stop getting new bumps. The average child gets a total of 500 chickenpox sores. It may take 2 weeks for all of the scabs to fall off.
Chickenpox rarely leaves any permanent scars unless the sores become badly infected or your child repeatedly picks off the scabs. However, normal chickenpox can leave temporary marks on the skin that take 6 to 12 months to fade. Once a child has had chickenpox he will usually never get it again. Very rarely, a child may have a second mild attack of chickenpox.
How can I take care of my child?
How can chickenpox be prevented?
- Itching and cool baths
The best treatment for skin discomfort and itching is a cool or lukewarm bath every 3 to 4 hours for the first few days. Add 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) of baking soda, oatmeal, or cornstarch per tub of water. Put calamine lotion on the itchy spots after the bath. You can also massage the itchy spots with an ice cube for 10 minutes. If the itching becomes severe or interferes with sleep, give your child a nonprescription antihistamine, Benadryl.
Acetaminophen may be given in the dose appropriate for your child's age for a few days if your child develops a fever over 102°F (39°C). Do not give ibuprofen products because of a possible link with severe Strep infections. Do not give aspirin to children and adolescents with chickenpox because of the link with Reye's syndrome.
Prevention of infected sores
To prevent the sores from becoming infected with bacteria, trim your child's fingernails short. Also, wash the hands with an antibacterial soap (such as Dial or Safeguard) frequently during the day.
Contagiousness and isolation
Children with chickenpox are contagious 5 days before the rash begins and until all the sores have crusted over, usually about 5 to 7 days after the rash begins. Once all the sores have crusted over (after 5 to 7 days), your child does not have to stay home anymore even though he still has scabs.
Most adults who think they didn't have chickenpox as a child had a mild case. Only 4% of adults are not protected. If you lived in the same household with siblings who had chickenpox, consider yourself protected. Siblings will come down with chickenpox in 14 to 16 days. The second case in a family always has many more chickenpox sores than the first case.
A chickenpox vaccine is now available. It can be given at any time after 12 months of age. This vaccine is given in a 2 dose series.
When should I call my child's healthcare provider?
Call IMMEDIATELY if:
- Some chickenpox sores look infected (yellow pus, spreading redness, red streaks).
- Your child develops a speckled, red rash.
- Fever is higher than 101 and lasts more than 4 days
- Your child starts acting very sick.