Chickenpox

Chickenpox is a highly infectious viral disease. Most children in the UK have the disease before the age of 10. After a chickenpox infection the virus stays dormant in the body and may reactivate at a later date, causing shingles. Chickenpox for most children is a mild, self-limiting disease; adults are more prone to severe disease and complications. Chickenpox infections peak between March and May.

Symptoms

The illness usually starts with fever and tiredness, followed by the development of an itchy rash of raised red spots that turn into fluid filled blisters. The spots generally start on the face and scalp before spreading over the rest of the body.

How do you catch Chickenpox?

Direct contact with the fluid from the blisters, or droplets spread through coughing and sneezing

Incubation period

1-3 weeks. Chickenpox is contagious from 1-2 days before the rash appears until all blisters have scabbed over – which is usually 5-6 days after the rash developed.

Diagnosis

The red blister-type rash is usually enough to diagnose a chickenpox infection.

Prevention

Good standards of hygiene can reduce the chance of spreading the infection. These include covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, preferably with a tissue which can then be disposed of, and regular hand-washing. A vaccine is available through private clinics. It may be recommended for healthcare workers if they have not had chickenpox themselves and are not immune.

Treatment

There is no cure, the majority of cases resolve with any specific treatment. Lotions and gels can be bought over the counter to reduce itching and soothe the skin. Ibuprofen should not be given to relieve discomfort as it can make someone with chickenpox very ill - paracetamol can be given instead. Anyone infected should stay away from school, nursery or work until all blisters have scabbed over, when the virus is no longer infectious.