Health Corner

What is chicken pox and how does it present?

Chicken pox is a common childhood illness (although it also affects adults) caused by the varicella zoster virus. It is very contagious and therefore often family members or school contacts are affected at the same time. 

The most common symptom is a red rash that becomes itchy fluid-filled blisters. It can be harder to see on darker skin. The rash can be anywhere on the body and can stay in a small area or become more widespread. The spots then form a scab and can be flaky or oozing. Other symptoms may include fever, tiredness, loss of appetite. 

You can pass it on to others easily and are infectious from two days before you develop spots to when all spots have scabbed over (usually around 5 days).

How you can look after chicken pox at home

  • Keep hydrated (can use ice lollies)
  • Take paracetamol for pain
  • Cut children’s fingernails and keep them clean 
  • Use cooling gels/creams
  • Have cool baths, patting dry after and dressing in loose clothes

When to seek help ( GP or 111 unless emergency)

  • If any skin becomes red, hot or painful
  • Any signs of dehydration in your child
  • If you are pregnant or have a weakened immune system and not had chicken pox before and come into contact with someone with it.
  • If you think your newborn has got chicken pox.

Some people can take a medication to prevent complications but this needs to be taken within 24hrs of spots appearing – call 111 for advice.

What to avoid

Do not scratch the spots (you could introduce infection and it can also lead to scarring). You will need to stay away from school, nursery or work until all the spots have formed a scab. Avoid Ibuprofen, as it can increase the skin infection risk, and do not give aspirin to children under 16. Do not go near newborn babies, pregnant women, or people with weakened immune systems as chicken pox can be dangerous for them.

Vaccinations

You can get the vaccine from the NHS if you are at risk of passing it onto someone with a weakened immune system. Otherwise it is available privately costing between £120–£200.


Dr. Yuheng Zhou

Teddington Resident & Paediatric Consultant

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