Does your child have a red, itchy rash covering their body? This could be a sign of chickenpox, a very contagious virus. Learn about the symptoms & relief here.

What is Chickenpox?

Chickenpox (varicella) is an extremely common infection that affects around 90% of children in the UK by the age of 15. Therefore, it is worth understanding some of the signs that your child may be developing this virus, as well as some of the best ways to try easing your little one’s pain. Although chickenpox is normally mild, the illness can cause your child to suffer from great discomfort. Chickenpox may be severe for those who suffer from weak immune systems.

How do I know if my little one has Chickenpox?

The most noticeable symptom for Chickenpox is an itchy skin rash with red blisters. The first symptoms appear 10 to 21 days after exposure to the virus, and usually most people recover in about two weeks.
There are also other symptoms of chickenpox that parents should be aware of, which may appear before or after the rash.ssss

  • High temperature – Above 38C
  • Feeling unwell – Often aches and pains, mild headache
  • Loss of Appetite

3 stages of chickenpox:

  1. The start of chickenpox is red spots or bumps appearing anywhere on the body
  2. These spots fill with fluid to form blisters, which may or may not spread over the body. These blisters may burst
  3. The spots will start to scab over, more blisters may appear while others scab over

How is chickenpox spread?

It is easy to catch chickenpox, it is very contagious, which is why it is so common within young children. Chickenpox can be caught by being in the same room as someone with it, as well as touching clothes or bedding that has the fluid from the blisters on. It is particularly common to pick up this disease at school, running around and playing with friends as little ones love to do. As approximately 9/10 of children in the UK develop chickenpox by the age of 15, parents should look out for any symptoms developing, so that they can care for their child, in order to reduce their distress.

When is Chickenpox infectious?

Chickenpox is infectious from 1 to 2 days before the spots appear to until the blisters are dried and crusted (around 5 to 6 days after the start of the rash). Chickenpox can occur all year around, but is most commonly caught in winter and spring, particularly between March and May.

In order to prevent spreading the infection, it is important that parents keep their children off nursery or school until their spots have crusted over. With this, it is also vital to try to keep them away from public areas, trying to avoid contact with individuals who may not have had the disease, especially new-born babies or pregnant women.

Can you get Chickenpox twice?

It is possible to get chickenpox more than once, but this is extremely rare. For most people, they will not develop chickenpox again as they become immune to it for life. However, others who have had chickenpox may develop a related condition called shingles later in life.

How to treat Chickenpox?

As chickenpox is a virus, you cannot treat it with antibiotics. It should be noted though that kids tend to scratch and pick at the blisters; which parents should discourage. This can cause bacteria to infect the sores and can lead to antibiotics being required.

It is common for children to develop a fever during the early stages of chickenpox, in which case you can give them a paracetamol-based medicine like CALPOL® Infant Suspension. This will help to reduce pain and fever, helping to get them on their way to feeling better.

There are plenty of guidelines to follow when trying to provide some relief from chickenpox, and there are many ways of trying to help, but also some warnings to avoid.

What else to do

  • Give your child paracetamol to help reduce pain and fever, such as CALPOL Infant Suspension
  • Prevent your child from becoming dehydrated, ensure they drink plenty of fluid
  • Cut your child’s nails
  • Encourage your child to put socks on their hands at night, preventing any scratching
  • Dress your child in loose clothes
  • If your child does keep scratching, speak to a pharmacist about using antihistamine medicine to help itching
  • Use cooling creams or gels from your pharmacy
  • If you are planning on going on holiday, make sure to check with your airline first as many airlines will not allow you to fly with chickenpox

What to Avoid

  • Do not use Ibuprofen unless advised to do so by your doctor, as this may result in serious skin infections
  • Do not give your child aspirin if they are under 16
  • Do not let your child be around pregnant women, new-born babies and people with weakened immune system, as this can be dangerous for them. Therefore, it is vital to take your child away from school as soon as symptoms start to emerge.

Chickenpox Vaccine

What is the chickenpox vaccine?

There is a chickenpox vaccine that is used to protect people who are most at risk of a serious chickenpox infection or of passing the infection on to someone who is at risk. The vaccine is currently only offered on the NHS to people who are in close contact with someone who is particularly vulnerable to chickenpox or its complications.

Who should have the chickenpox vaccine?

The vaccine is useful for lowering the chances of infecting people at risk. The illness is extremely contagious and can spread very easily. It is recommended for certain individuals, such as:

  • Non-immune healthcare workers
  • Non-immune people who care for or are around others with a weakened immune system

Who should not have the chickenpox vaccine?

  • Anyone with a weakened immune system
  • Pregnant women
  • Anyone who’s seriously unwell

Chickenpox Immunisation Schedule

  • The vaccine is given as 2 separate injections, usually into the upper arm, 4 to 8 weeks apart.

Difference between Chickenpox and Measles

Chickenpox symptoms:

  • High temperature – Above 38C
  • Feeling unwell – Often aches and pains, mild headache
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Rash

Measles symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Red, blotchy rash which first appears on the forehead
  • Red, inflamed eyes
  • Hacking cough and sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Kolpik’s Spots inside the mouth (small red spots with blue-white centres found inside your mouth and cheeks)
  • You should contact a GP as soon as possible if you suspect that you or your child may have measles

What does Chickenpox look like?

What do measles look like?

  Chickenpox Measles
incubation period 10 to 21 days 10 to 14 days
contagious period up to two days until rash develops and then until spots scab over four days before rash develops and then four days afterward
rash yes: itchy red rash that eventually forms blisters yes: non-itchy flat rash
fever yes yes
runny nose no yes
sore throat no yes
cough no yes
conjunctivitis no yes
lesions in mouth yes: blisters can form in the mouth yes: Koplik's spots can be found in the mouth before the rash appears
vaccine available? yes yes

When to call the doctor

Most cases of chickenpox are mild and will go away on their own. However, it is important to speak to a GP if:

  • You are not sure if it is chickenpox
  • There are any signs of infected chickenpox (skin around the blisters is red, hot or painful)
  • Your child is dehydrated
  • You are concerned about your child or they get worse

Make sure to tell the receptionist at the Surgery if you think it is chickenpox before going in, they may recommend a special appointment time, to reduce the risk to other patients.

See also

Aches & pains
Aches & pains

Every child suffers aches and pains as they’re growing up. Find out what might be causing them and what you can do to help.

More about aches & pains

CALPOL® Infant Suspension
CALPOL® Infant Suspension


Contains paracetamol.
For babies and children aged 2 months to 6 years weighing more than 4kg and not premature.

Tough on pain and fever. Gentle on the tummy.

Full product details

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