Chickenpox

Chickenpox is a very common childhood illness, caused by a virus called varicella. It starts with red bumps that become small, yellowish blisters affecting the whole body – including the mouth and genitals (which can be very painful). They then open before scabbing over. These are very itchy and can make your child miserable. They may have a temperature, a cough and a runny nose. Children are able to pass the virus to others from the day before the rash appears until the last spot has scabbed over.


Chickenpox rarely needs treatment, unless in a new-born baby, or in a child with a known weak immune system ( i.e. weakened immune system due to anti-cancer treatment, immunosuppressive treatment or genetic immunodeficiency). If you are not sure it is chickenpox look at other childhood rashes here.

Chickenpox thumbnail.png

When should you worry?

Has blue lips

  • Too breathless to talk / eat or drink
  • Becomes pale, mottled and feels abnormally cold to touch
  • Becomes extremely agitated, confused or very lethargic (difficult to wake)
  • Develops severe headache, neck stiffness or balance problems
  • Has a fit or seizure
  • Has a rash that does not disappear with pressure (the ‘Glass Test’)

You need urgent help.

Go to the nearest Hospital Emergency (A&E) Department or phone 999
  • Increasing pain and redness between the spots:
  • New blisters/spots appearing after 7 days
  • Temperatures for 5 or more days
  • Seems dehydrated (sunken eyes, drowsy, no urine passed in 12 hours)
  • Rash spreading to the eyes
  • Has extreme shivering or complains of muscle pain
  • Is getting worse of if you are worried
  • A parent is pregnant and has not previously had chickenpox
  • Contact with pregnant women who has not previously had chickenpox, person with a weakened immune system who has not previous had chickenpox or a new-born baby (the contact should seek advice from a healthcare professional)

You need to contact a doctor or nurse today.

Please ring your GP surgery or call NHS 111 - dial 111

If symptoms persist for 4 hours or more and you have not been able to speak to either a member of staff from your GP practice or to NHS 111 staff, recheck that your child has not developed any red features.

If none of the above features present:

Continue providing your child’s care at home. If you are still concerned about your child, speak to your health visitor, local pharmacist or call NHS 111– dial 111. Avoid nursery or school for 5 days from rash onset or until all spots are fully scabbed over. 

Self care

Continue providing your child’s care at home. If you are still concerned about your child, speak to your health visitorlocal pharmacist or call NHS 111– dial 111

Children and young people who are unwell and have a high temperature should stay at home. They can go back to school, college or childcare when they no longer have a high temperature, and they are well enough to attend.

What can you do to help your child?

Seeing your child unwell with chickenpox can be very distressing for a parent and while there is usually no treatment for the virus itself, there are simple things you can do to make your child more comfortable:

  • Regular paracetamol for temperature/pain
  • Antihistamines (eg piriton) can help with itching and aid sleep
  • Drink plenty of fluid and try ice lollies if your child is not drinking much
  • Calamine lotion/oat milk bath/Sodium bicarbonate bath for itch
  • Pat dry after bath rather than rubbing for comfort
  • Dress in loose clothes
  • Don’t give ibuprofen or aspirin unless advised to by a doctor
  • Cut nails/apply hand mittens at night to reduce damage to skin and try to
  • Avoid too much scratching if possible

How long does it last?

  • Usually the last spot has crusted over by 5-7 days after the rash first appears
  • It is highly contagious until spots have dried and scabbed over
  • Avoid nursery or school for 5 days from rash onset or until all spots are fully scabbed over
  • Avoid contact with new-born babies, people with a weakened immune system and pregnant women until all of their spots have scabbed over – if concerned regarding this contact your GP

The chickenpox vaccine

The chickenpox vaccine is a vaccine used to prevent catching and spreading the disease. It is not part of the standard vaccine programme but is offered to childrenwho are at increased risk of severe chickenpox infection and to those with a family member at risk of complications. It is also available privately through travel clinics and pharmacies and costs between £120-£200. More information is available here.

Where should you seek help?

Self Care

For wear and tear, minor trips and everything in between.

Self-care

You can treat your child's very minor illnesses and injuries at home.

Some illnesses can be treated in your own home with support and advice from the services listed when required, using the recommended medicines and getting plenty of rest.

Sound advice

Children can recover from illness quickly but also can become more poorly quickly; it is important to seek further advice if a child's condition gets worse.

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

Local Pharmacist

Pharmacists are experts in many aspects of healthcare and can offer advice on a wide range of long-term conditions and common illnesses such as coughs, colds and stomach upsets. You don’t need an appointment and many have private consultation areas, so they are a good first port of call. Your pharmacist will say if you need further medical attention.

Sound advice

  1. Visit a pharmacy if your child is ill, but does not need to see a GP.
  2. Remember that if your child's condition gets worse, you should seek further medical advice immediately.
  3. Help your child to understand - watch this video with them about going to the pharmacy.

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

Health Visitors

Health visitors are nurses or midwives who are passionate about promoting healthy lifestyles and preventing illness through the delivery of the Healthy Child Programme. They work with you through your pregnancy up until your child is ready to start school.

Health Visitors can also make referrals for you to other health professionals for example hearing or vision concerns or to the Community Paediatricians or to the child and adolescent mental health services.

Contact them by phoning your Health Visitor Team or local Children’s Centre.

Sound advice

Health visitors also provide advice, support and guidance in caring for your child, including:

  • Breastfeeding, weaning and healthy eating
  • Exercise, hygiene and safety
  • Your child’s growth and development
  • Emotional health and wellbeing, including postnatal depression
  • Safety in the home
  • Stopping smoking
  • Contraception and sexual health
  • Sleep and behaviour management (including temper tantrums!)
  • Toilet training
  • Minor illnesses

For more information watch the video: What does a health visitor do?

School Nurses

School nurses care for children and young people, aged 5-19, and their families, to ensure their health needs are supported within their school and community. They work closely with education staff and other agencies to support parents, carers and the children and young people, with physical and/or emotional health needs.

Contacting the School Nurse

Primary and secondary schools have an allocated school nurse – telephone your child’s school to ask for the contact details of your named school nurse.

There is also a specialist nurse who works with families who choose to educate their children at home.

Sound Advice

Before your child starts school your health visitor will meet with the school nursing team to transfer their care to the school nursing service. The school nursing team consists of a school nursing lead, specialist public health practitioners and school health staff nurses.

They all have a role in preventing disease and promoting health and wellbeing, by:-

  • encouraging healthier lifestyles
  • offering immunisations
  • giving information, advice and support to children, young people and their families
  • supporting children with complex health needs

Each member of the team has links with many other professionals who also work with children including community paediatricians, child and adolescent mental health teams, health visitors and speech and language therapists. The school health nursing service also forms part of the multi-agency services for children, young people and families where there are child protection or safeguarding issues.

GP (General Practitioner)

GPs assess, treat and manage a whole range of health problems. They also provide health education, give vaccinations and carry out simple surgical procedures. Your GP will arrange a referral to a hospital specialist should you need it.

Sound advice

You have a choice of service:

  1. Doctors/GPs can treat many illnesses that do not warrant a visit to A&E.
  2. Help your child to understand – watch this video with them about visiting the GP or going to a walk in centre

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

NHS 111

If you’re not sure which NHS service you need, call 111. An adviser will ask you questions to assess your symptoms and then give you the advice you need, or direct you straightaway to the best service for you in your area.

Sound advice

Use NHS 111 if you are unsure what to do next, have any questions about a condition or treatment or require information about local health services.

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

Accident and Emergency

A&E departments provide vital care for life-threatening emergencies, such as loss of consciousness, suspected heart attacks, breathing difficulties, or severe bleeding that cannot be stopped. If you’re not sure it’s an emergency, call 111 for advice.

Sound advice

  1. Many visits to A&E and calls to 999 could be resolved by any other NHS services.
  2. If your child's condition is not critical, choose another service to get them the best possible treatment.
  3. Help your child to understand – watch this video with them about going to A&E or riding in an ambulance
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