Chicken Pox

Chicken pox is a very contagious disease caused by a virus
(Varicella/herpes zoster). It is spread from child to child, and
sometimes to adults, by sneezing, coughing, contaminated clothing
and direct contact with open blisters. Children exposed to the virus
get chicken pox 7-21 days later.

Most of the time there are no symptoms
before the rash appears. Some children, though, may be tired, have
a fever and complain of a stomach ache a day or two before a flat,
red rash appears. The rash generally begins on the scalp, face and
back, but can spread to any body surface. It is rarely seen, though,
on the palms of hands or soles of feet. Sores smaller than a pencil
eraser, that are sometimes encrusted, can also be found in the mouth,
on the eyelids and in the genital area.

Within hours, these flat,
red spots turn into tiny clear blisters that itch a lot. As your child
scratches the blisters, serum spills out, dries and forms hard crusts
that loosen and drop off about two weeks later. Since the rash continues
to break out for the first two to six days, new red spots are often seen
alongside old dried scabs. Some children have very few spots while others
are covered.

Most children recover from chicken pox uneventfully in
less than two weeks. Complications are rare, although chicken pox can
occasionally lead to encephalitis (an inflammation of the brain),
meningitis or pneumonia. Children who have cancer and those who take
medications that affect the immune system are at a higher risk of
complications from chicken pox. The biggest problem parents face
with chicken pox, though, is infected blisters.

There is prescription
medication available that can decrease the length and severity of chicken
pox. It is not recommended for routine cases. Also, it is only effective
if started within 24 hours of the onset of the infection. It does not
interfere with the child’s developing immunity to chicken pox. Ask your
doctor for more information.

One attack of chicken pox usually
gives your child lifelong immunity. Children rarely have a second round
of chicken pox, but if it does occur, the attacks are usually very


vaccine has been developed for chicken pox. It is called Varicella
Zoster Virus Vaccine. Ask your child’s health care provider about it.

Self-Care Tips

The goals are to make your child comfortable and to reduce and relieve the itching so your child does not scratch off the scabs, which could start a secondary infection and/or leave scars.

  • Encourage your child not to scratch the scabs. Keep him or her busy with other activities.
  • Give your child a cool bath without soap every 3-4 hours for the first couple of days (15-20 minutes at a time). Add one-half cup of baking soda or colloidal oatmeal bath packet such as Aveeno to the bath water. Pat, do not rub, your child dry.
  • Dip a washcloth in cool water and place it on the itchy areas.
  • Apply calamine
    (not caladryl) lotion for temporary relief.
  • Trim your child’s
    fingernails to prevent infection caused by opened blisters.
    Scratching off the crusty scabs may leave permanent scars.
  • Cover the hands of infants with cotton socks if they are scratching their sores.
  • Wash your child’s hands three times a day with an antibacterial
    soap such as Safeguard or Dial to avoid infecting the open blisters.
  • Keep your child cool and calm. Heat and sweating makes the itching worse. Also, keep your child out of the sun. Extra chicken pox will occur on parts of the skin exposed to the sun.
  • Give your child Benadryl, an over-the counter antihistamine, if the itching is severe or stops your child from sleeping. (See label for proper dosage).
  • Give your child acetaminophen (children’s versions of the following: Tylenol, Tempra, Liquiprin, Datril, Anacin 3 or Panadol) for the fever. [Note: Do not give aspirin or any medication containing salicylates to anyone 19 years of age or younger, unless directed by a physician, due to its association with Reye’s Syndrome, a potentially fatal condition.]
  • Give your child soft foods and cold fluids if he or she has sores in the mouth. Do not offer salty foods or citrus fruits that may irritate the
  • Have your child gargle with salt water (1/4 teaspoon to 4 ounces of water) to help ease itching in the mouth, if necessary.
  • Reassure your child that the “bumps” are not serious and will go away in a week or so.

Questions to Ask

Does your child have a severe headache, stiff neck, convulsions, abnormal behavior and/or continuous vomiting?

Yes: Seek Emergency Care


Is your child hard to wake, confused or having trouble breathing?

Yes: Seek Emergency Care


Does your child have cancer, or is your child taking medications that affect the immune system and have a fever higher than 102oF?

Yes: Seek Emergency Care


Does your child have cancer, or is your child taking medications that affect the immune system but not have a fever higher than 102oF?

Yes: See Doctor


Does your child have a fever higher than 103oF or had a fever higher than 102oF for more than two days?

Yes: See Doctor


Does your child have any scabs that are red, oozing pus, or bleeding or has he or she developed a red rash with tiny pink dots?
Yes: Call Doctor


Provide Self-Care

American Institute for Preventive Medicine Written by American Institute for Preventive Medicine

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