Chickenpox is common and mostly affects children, although you can get it at any age. It tends to get better by itself within a week – without needing to see a GP.
Chickenpox starts with red spots which can appear anywhere on the body. The spots fill with fluid and become blisters. The blisters may burst. They also might spread or stay in a small area.
The spots scab over. More blisters might appear while others scab over.
You might get symptoms before or after the spots, including:
- A high temperature above 38 degrees Celcius
- Aches and pains
- Generally feeling unwell
- Loss of appetite
Chickenpox is very itchy and can make children feel miserable, even if they do not have many spots. Chickenpox is usually much worse in adults.
It is possible to get chickenpox more than once, although it is unusual.
Treating chickenpox at home
Important: You or your child (depending on who is affected) will need to stay away from school, nursery or work until all spots have scabbed over. This usually occurs 5 days after the spots first appear.
- Drink plenty of fluids (try ice lollies if your child is not drinking) to avoid dehydration
- Take paracetamol to help with pain and discomfort
- Put socks on your child's hands at night to stop scratching
- Cut your child's nails
- Use cooling creams or gels from your local CarePlus Pharmacy
- Speak to our friendly Pharmacists about using antihistamine medicine to help with itching
- Bathe in cool water and pat the skin dry (do not rub)
- Dress in loose clothes
- Check with your airline if you're going on holiday – many airlines will not allow you to fly with chickenpox
- Do not use ibuprofen unless advised to do so by your doctor, as it may cause serious skin infections
- Do not give aspirin to children under 16
- Do not be around pregnant women, newborn babies and people with a weakened immune system, as it can be dangerous for them
Speak to your GP if:
- You're not sure it's chickenpox
- The skin around the blisters is red, hot or painful (signs of infection)
- Your child is dehydrated
- You're concerned about your child or they get worse
Tell the receptionist you think it's chickenpox before going in. They may recommend a special appointment time if other patients are at risk.
Get urgent advice if:
- You're an adult and have chickenpox
- You're pregnant and have not had chickenpox before and have been near someone with it
- You have a weakened immune system and have been near someone with chickenpox
- You think your newborn baby has chickenpox
You may need medicine to prevent complications. You need to take it within 24 hours of the spots coming out.
How does it spread?
It is quite easy to catch chickenpox. You can catch chickenpox by being in the same room as someone with it. It is also spread by touching clothes or bedding that has fluid from the blisters on it.
How long chickenpox is infectious for?
Chickenpox is infectious from 2 days before the spots appear up until they have crusted over, usually 5 days after they first appeared.
How soon you get symptoms after coming in contact with chickenpox?
It can take 1 to 3 weeks from the time you were exposed to chickenpox for the spots to start appearing.
Chickenpox in pregnancy
It is rare to get chickenpox when you're pregnant and the chance of it causing complications is low.
If you do get chickenpox while pregnant, there is a small risk of your baby being ill when it is born. It can cause a range of serious birth defects as well as severe disease in the baby when it is born.
Speak to a GP if you have not had chickenpox, are pregnant and have been near someone with chickenpox.
Shingles and chickenpox
You cannot catch shingles from someone with chickenpox.
You can catch chickenpox from someone with shingles if you have not had chickenpox before.
The chickenpox vaccine
The chickenpox vaccine is not part of the routine childhood vaccination schedule and is currently only offered to people who are particularly vulnerable to chickenpox.
Certain groups of people are at greater risk of serious complications from chickenpox. These include people who have weakened immune systems through illness, such as HIV, or through treatment, such as chemotherapy.
Chickenpox can be very serious for an unborn baby when a pregnant woman catches the infection. It can cause a range of serious birth defects as well as severe disease in the baby when it is born.
The vaccine is recommended for individuals who are likely to come into contact with people in the 'at-risk' groups. This is to reduce the risk of the individuals spreading the infection to those at risk.
For example, if you were having chemotherapy treatment, it would be recommended that any non-immune children who you may come into contact with be given the chickenpox vaccination. Or if you were about to start work in a radiotherapy department and you had no previous history of chickenpox, the vaccine would be recommended.
It has been shown that 9 out of 10 children vaccinated with a single dose will develop immunity against chickenpox. A two-dose schedule is now recommended for all, as it gives a better immune response. Three-quarters of teenagers and adults who are vaccinated with two doses will develop immunity against chickenpox.
You cannot catch shingles from someone with chickenpox. You can catch chickenpox from someone with shingles if you have not had chickenpox before.
When you get chickenpox, the virus stays in your body. It can be triggered again if your immune system is low and cause shingles. This can be because of stress, certain conditions, or treatments like chemotherapy.
What is it?
Shingles is an infection that causes a painful rash. Get urgent advice as soon as possible if you think you may have it.
The first signs of shingles can be:
- A tingling or painful feeling in an area of skin
- A headache or feeling generally unwell
- Rash will appear a few days later
Usually you get shingles on your chest and tummy, but it can appear on your face, eyes and genitals.
The shingles rash appears as red blotches on your skin, on one side of your body only. A rash on both the left and right of your body is unlikely to be shingles.
The blotches become itchy blisters that ooze fluid. A few days later, the blisters dry out and scab.
The rash can form a cluster that only appears on one side of your body. The skin remains painful until after the rash has gone.
Shingles can also make your eye red and sore, affect your sight or hearing, or make it difficult to move one side of your face.
You may need medicine to help speed up your recovery and avoid longer-lasting problems. This works best if taken within 3 days of your symptoms starting.
Treating shingles at home:
- Take paracetamol to ease pain
- Keep the rash clean and dry to reduce the risk of infection
- Wear loose-fitting clothing
- Use a cool compress (a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel or a wet cloth) a few times a day
- Do not let dressings or plasters stick to the rash
- Do not use antibiotic cream – this slows healing
How long shingles lasts
It can take up to 4 weeks for the rash to heal.
Your skin can be painful for weeks after the rash has gone, but it usually settles over time.
Stay away from certain groups of people if you have shingles.
You cannot spread shingles to others. But people who have not had chickenpox before could catch chickenpox from you. This is because shingles is caused by the chickenpox virus.
Try to avoid:
- Pregnant women who have not had chickenpox before
- People with a weakened immune system – like someone having chemotherapy
- Babies less than 1 month old – unless it's your own baby, as they should be protected from the virus by your immune system
- Work/school – stay off work or school if the rash is still weeping and cannot be covered, or until the rash has dried out
- You are only infectious to others while the rash oozes fluid. You can cover the rash with loose clothing or a non-sticky dressing
Shingles and pregnancy
If you're pregnant and get shingles, there is no danger to your pregnancy or baby. However, you should be referred to a specialist, as you may need antiviral treatment.
You cannot get shingles from someone with chickenpox
You cannot get shingles from someone with shingles or chickenpox. But you can get chickenpox from someone with shingles if you have not had chickenpox before.
When people get chickenpox, the virus remains in the body. It can be reactivated later and cause shingles if someone's immune system is lowered. This can be because of stress, certain conditions, or treatments like chemotherapy.