Location: St.Albans - Hatfield Road
13th April 2017

Health Visitor Blog CheckenPox

Health Visitor Blog CheckenPox



As a Health Visitor and a mother, I know that the onset of Chickenpox can be quite an alarming experience, especially for first-time mothers.


This blog is intended to dispel any urban myths that you might have heard.  The blog presents facts extracted from NHS Choices.


Above all things, my advice is very simple: don’t panic and prepare for a few frustrating days of tension, itching, stopping your child from scratching (constantly) and probably some crying: your child and you!  But it will pass and will quickly become a distant and deeply buried memory.



What is Chickpox?


Chickenpox is a common illness that mainly affects children and causes an itchy, spotty rash.


Most children will catch chickenpox at some point. It can also occur in adults who didn't have it when they were a child.


Chickenpox is usually mild and clears up in a week or so, but it can be dangerous for some people, such as pregnant women, newborn babies and people with a weakened immune system.


The symptoms of chickenpox start one to three weeks after becoming infected.


How do you catch chickenpox?


Chickenpox is caused by a virus that spreads very easily to people who haven't had it before. If you have had it before, you'll usually be immune for life.


The infection is spread in the fluid found in chickenpox blisters and the droplets in the coughs or sneezes of someone with the infection.


You can catch chickenpox from:


  • contaminated surfaces
  • contaminated objects, such as toys or bedding
  • touching chickenpox blisters or the shingles rash
  • face-to-face contact with an infected person, such as having a conversation
  • being in the same room as an infected person for 15 minutes or more

Someone with chickenpox is infectious from one or two days before the rash appears until all the blisters have dried out and crusted over.

What are the Symptoms?


  • The main symptom is a rash that develops in three stages:
  • spots – red raised spots develop on the face or chest before spreading to other parts of the body
  • blisters – over the next few hours or the following day, very itchy fluid-filled blisters develop on top of the spots
  • scabs and crusts – after a further few days, the blisters dry out and scab over to form a crust; the crusts then gradually fall off by themselves over the next week or two


Chickenpox is contagious until all the blisters have scabbed over, which usually happens about five or six days after the rash appeared.

How do I treat chickenpox at home?


Chickenpox can usually be treated at home.


You or your child will probably feel pretty miserable and uncomfortable, but treatment can help relieve the symptoms.


The following can help:


  • use paracetamol to relieve fever and discomfort – don't use anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as ibuprofen, as they can sometimes make people with chickenpox very ill
  • use calamine lotion, moisturising creams or cooling gels to ease itching
  • tap or pat the skin rather than scratching it – it's important to avoid scratching because this can lead to further problems
  • drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated


You should also take steps to stop chickenpox spreading, such as staying away from school or work until the last blister has scabbed over.


When should I get medical advice?


Chickenpox is normally mild and gets better on its own. But some people can become more seriously ill and need to see a doctor.


It's a good idea to contact your GP or NHS 111 for advice if:


  • you're not sure if you or your child has chickenpox
  • your baby is less than four weeks old and has chickenpox
  • you develop chickenpox as an adult
  • the symptoms haven't started to improve after six days
  • you've been in contact with someone who has chickenpox (or you have symptoms) and you're pregnant or have a weakened immune system
  • you or your child has signs of chickenpox complications, such as swollen and painful skin, difficulty breathing or dehydration


Also consider getting advice if you're originally from a country near the equator (the tropics) and you've been in close contact with someone who has chickenpox. 


What are the possible complications?


Most people with chickenpox will make a full recovery. But occasionally serious complications can occur.


These are more common in adults, pregnant women, newborn babies and people with weakened immune systems.


Possible complications include:


  • a bacterial skin infection – this can cause the skin to become red, swollen and painful
  • a lung infection (pneumonia) – this can cause a persistent cough, breathing difficulties and chest pain
  • pregnancy problems – including the infection spreading to the unborn baby


Some people with chickenpox may develop shingles later in life. This is a painful, blistery rash caused by the chickenpox virus becoming reactivated.


Chickenpox FAQs


•Can I get chickenpox more than once?


Yes, it is possible to get chickenpox more than once, but this is extremely rare.  Most people who have had chickenpox won't get it again because they're immune to it for life.  However, some people who have had chickenpox will develop a related condition called shingles later on. This is caused by the chickenpox virus being reactivated, usually several decades later.


How are chickenpox and shingles connected?


Chickenpox and shingles are both caused by the same virus: the varicella-zoster virus.  In some people who have had chickenpox, the virus can become active again later in life and cause shingles.  You can't catch shingles from someone else. However, you can catch chickenpox from someone with shingles if you haven't had chickenpox before. 


What are the risks of chickenpox during pregnancy?


Chickenpox during pregnancy can cause complications, both for the pregnant woman and the unborn baby. However, the actual risk of any complications occurring is low.


It's rare to get chickenpox when you're pregnant. In the UK, it's estimated that just 3 in every 1,000 women (0.3%) catch chickenpox during pregnancy.


Most pregnant women who get chickenpox recover, with no harmful effects on the baby.


When to get medical advice


Seek advice from your GP or midwife immediately if you're pregnant and:


  • you think you may have chickenpox
  • either you've never had chickenpox or you're not sure, and you've been near someone that has it (even if you have no rash or other symptoms)
  • you get chickenpox within seven days of giving birth


Complications for pregnant women

You have a higher risk of complications from chickenpox if you're pregnant and:


  • smoke
  • have a lung condition, such as bronchitis or emphysema
  • are taking or have taken steroids during the last three months
  • are more than 20 weeks pregnant


There is a small risk of complications in pregnant women with chickenpox. These are rare and include: 



Complications that arise from catching chickenpox during pregnancy can be fatal. However, with antiviral therapy and improved intensive care, this is very rare.


Complications for the unborn baby


Complications that can affect the unborn baby vary, depending on how many weeks pregnant you are. If you catch chickenpox:


  • Before 28 weeks pregnant: there's no evidence you are at increased risk of suffering a miscarriage. However, there's a small risk your baby could develop foetal varicella syndrome (FVS). FVS can damage the baby's skin, eyes, legs, arms, brain, bladder or bowel.
  • Between weeks 28 and 36 of pregnancy: the virus stays in the baby's body but doesn't cause any symptoms. However, it may become active again in the first few years of the baby's life, causing shingles.


After 36 weeks of pregnancy: your baby may be infected and could be born with chickenpox.


Complications for the newborn baby


Your baby may develop severe chickenpox and will need treatment if you catch it:


  • around the time of birth and the baby is born within seven days of your rash developing
  • up to seven days after giving birth


For more information see the NHS Choices website at www.nhs.uk