Chickenpox is a common childhood illness because it's so infectious. For most parents, it's a case of 'when' rather than 'if' their child will contract it. For the main part, it's not particularly dangerous but it can be a cause for concern if a pregnant woman, who hasn't had it before, is exposed to the disease.
How to spot chickenpox
Chickenpox has an incubation period of about 20 days so a child may have the disease long before the tell-tale spots appear.
Firstly the child may have a temperature, headache or simply seem a bit groggy. Then the spots begin to appear, usually on a child's
torso (the trunk of their body) before spreading to their arms and legs, face, scalp and pretty much everywhere else, even inside the mouth or bottom in some cases. The spots are like little blisters which weep pus containing the virus. They eventually scab over.
When your child has chickenpox
Apart from feeling hot or just a bit droopy, a child will hatch more spots each day for about three or four days. These look like little blisters and will scab over quite quickly. However, they will be very itchy.
Try to keep your child comfortable with loose clothing. Pyjamas and a rest on the sofa or with a few untaxing books in bed will probably
Although chickenpox are very itchy, they can leave scars if they are scratched off so try to ease the irritation with calamine lotion. This
does not cost very much and you can buy it at any chemist without prescription. If your child hates being touched because of the
discomfort, buy a spray (the empty bottles you can buy from places like The Body Shop) and put your lotion into that, then spray your
Make sure your child does not have dirty hands or fingernails in case scratching infects the spots.
You don't have to see your GP because they can do little to bring the illness to a swifter conclusion. Some people like to just call their doctor to let them know their child has the illness but it is up to the surgery whether or not they feel they need to see the patient.
In the case of any person who has an existing condition which might make any illness a concern, then let the GP know straight away.
If there is redness and/or a continued or recurrent high temperature, the spots could be infected, which could potentially lead to serious complications. In this instance do call the doctor urgently.
When your baby has chickenpox
When your child is less than one-year-old, it is worth calling the doctor to let them know your baby has, or is suspected to have, chickenpox.
Make sure you use calamine lotion without getting any near the babies eyes or mouth, as they will not be able to instinctively shield themselves as a child would.
Some people believe that the younger the child is, the less severe the chickenpox. However this is not necessarily true - a child of any age might get a more severe crop of spots than another child.
Whenever your baby is ill, do keep an eye on their temperature as they can suffer from overheating. Keep them cool and comfortable and use baby medicines like Calpol or Nurofen For Children if you feel you need to. Do ask your pharmacist for guidance if you have questions. Most drugs like this are unsuitable below three months.
When is chickenpox infectious?
The period when your child is infectious runs from two days before the spots appear to the time when the spots have dried up and scabbed over. The time your child picks up the infection to the time the symptoms appear (called the ‘incubation period’) can be between two and three weeks. Obviously you will not know for some time that your child is carrying the illness, but once it appears, do let other parents and friends know as they may have children they would prefer not to be exposed to the illness.
Children who attend nursery, playgroups or school should not be allowed to return until the spots have fully scabbed over and dried up (they will be infectious before then).
The period between the appearance of the spots and the spots drying up is likely to be about five days, at most.
It is good practice to let your other friends and work colleagues know, in case they have been exposed to the child or someone else who might now be carrying the illness. You might not realise that someone you know is in the early stages of pregnancy so it is worth tactfully mentioning it to everyone. Other adults, grandparents for example, who have not had chickenpox, can catch the disease from your child - it can be more severe in older people than it usually is in infants.
Once a child has had chickenpox, the virus is dormant, although it can cause shingles later in life.
Chickenpox and pregnancy
Chickenpox is such a common childhood illness that most women will already have experienced the illness long before their pregnancy years, and are not likely to catch it from a child when they are expecting.
If you have not had chickenpox before and are pregnant, and believe you might have been exposed to the disease, contact your GP immediately, as it can have serious implications for your own health (in very extreme cases it can kill because it can lead to pneumonia). Plus, it can affect your unborn baby.
If you have had chickenpox before you are unlikely to suffer at all. However, in adults, the dormant virus can then trigger shingles. These are uncomfortable but are not considered to be a risk to pregnancy.
If you get chickenpox in the first half of your pregnancy (before 20 weeks), in rare circumstances your child could suffer long-term physical complications such as brain damage or eye problems - this is thought to occur in only about 2% of cases.
If the pregnancy is more advanced it might mean the baby has chickenpox in the womb, which can cause shingles in the first months of life but is not likely to cause long-term damage.
It is not advisable to have a chickenpox vaccination once you are pregnant, but you should contact your doctor as soon as possible if you are worried, because a simple blood test can determine if you already have antibodies to chickenpox (as the vast majority of women do).
A GP can also provide other anti-viral drugs during pregnancy to control the condition. Swift action makes a big difference.