chickenpox a virus

Chickenpox is a very infectious disease caused by one of a group of herpes viruses. It causes a distinctive rash and mild flu-like symptoms.

Most children will get chickenpox when they are young and it is usually a mild illness. Once your baby has caught the disease, it can take between 10 and 21 days for symptoms to show. Your baby will then be infectious from about two days before the rash appears until all the spots have dried up, which usually takes about five days. If your baby goes to nursery or childcare  keep him at home for five days from when the rash first appears.

Chickenpox usually starts with mild flu-like symptoms:

  • fever
  • headache
  • nausea
  • aches and pains
  • loss of appetite

A couple of days later, the chickenpox rash appears. It starts as little red spots which develop tiny blisters on the top within a few hours. You’ll notice them first on your baby’s face. The spots will spread to his chest and tummy, and then to other parts of his body, appearing in crops. There may be so many spots that they will appear to run into one another, or there may just be a few spots. The spots are likely to be most sore on his scalp, in his mouth and throat, and around his genitals.

Chickenpox is a virus, so won’t respond to antibiotics. It will go away on its own, but you can help to relieve your baby’s symptoms with some treatments at home:

  • If your baby is three months or older, you can give him infant paracetamol or ibuprofen to bring down his fever and to relieve any aches and pains. Check the dosage information on the packet, or ask your doctor or pharmacist if you’re unsure about how much to give your baby.
  • Give your baby plenty of fluids to prevent him getting dehydrated. Offer him extra breast or bottle feeds and if he is formula-fed or on solids he can have water too.
  • To soothe your baby’s itchy spots, you can use calamine lotion. You can also try putting bicarbonate of soda in your baby’s bath to relieve itchiness.
  • If your baby is over year old and the itching is particularly troublesome at night, your doctor may prescribe the antihistamine chlorphenamine (Pirition). This also has a sedating effect which may help him to sleep more easily.
  • Keep your baby’s nails short if he keeps scratching himself. This will help to prevent scarring and the spots from becoming infected.
  • Dress your baby in loose cotton clothing to keep his skin cool and reduce itching.
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