Chickenpox begin as small red bumps that change into water blisters which pop and then become crusty. The bumps usually start on the head and back and then spread to the arms and legs. You can get them in the mouth and eyelids as well. Usually children have fever with chickenpox. Your child may have caught them from someone else as long as 2 weeks ago, because the chickenpox virus stays around for a while. It is caused by a virus. There is a vaccine now to prevent chickenpox.
What should I expect?
New bumps may pop up for 4 or 5 more days after they start. Children may also have fever. The average child may get 400 or 500 bumps. The bumps usually do not leave scars UNLESS the bumps become infected or your child picks at the scabs over and over again. After they are gone, they may leave pale spots in African−Americans. These should go away with time. Usually children do not ever get chickenpox again if they become infected, but rarely this may happen.
What can I do?
ITCHING: The best treatment for itching is a cool bath every 3−4 hours for the first few days. You may add Aveeno oatmeal bath (available in drugstores) to the water to help with the itching, or put a little oatmeal in a sock and then place in the bath water. Calamine lotion can be placed on the itchy spots. If itching is worse, you may give Benadryl, a liquid medicine, for your child to swallow.
FEVER: You may give acetaminophen (Tylenol) for fever. Do not give aspirin for the fever. We do not recommend using ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) during the chickenpox either.
PREVENTION OF BACTERIAL INFECTIONS: Since chickenpox is a virus, antibiotics do not help. But sometimes the bumps may become infected by bacteria such as strep, especially if your child scratches them. It is very important to watch the spots. Also make sure your child washes his or her hands. You may also want to clip his or her fingernails. If the bumps begin to look very red (surrounded by redness) or develop lots of pus or yellow liquid, or if they seem swollen or tender, talk to your doctor. Children do not usually die from chickenpox, but they can die from bacterial infections.
When can my child go back to school or daycare?
Children with chickenpox are contagious until all the sores have crusted over. This usually takes about 6− 7 days after the rash begins. To prevent giving them to other children, try not to take your child anywhere is possible.
I didn’t have chickenpox as a child. Will I get them from my child?
Most adults who think they never had chickenpox as a child probably did have them −− they just had a mild case. 95% of people have had an infection, even a mild one, by the time they become adults. It is very contagious, so if you really think you never had them , you may talk to your doctor about the vaccine.
Adults who get chickenpox can get very sick, unlike children. You will need to see your doctor if you get them, ESPECIALLY if you are (or think you might be) pregnant.
My other children don’t have chickenpox and have never had them. What can I do?
Chickenpox is very contagious and most people who live together will catch them if they have never had them before. In fact, usually the second or third child who gets them will have a worse case. The vaccine may be helpful if it is given within 3 days of the time the second or third child was exposed to the first child.