Chickenpox In Kids: Causes, Treatment And Prevention

Chickenpox In Children

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Did you know? Chickenpox affects around 3.5 million children and more than 4,500 children are hospitalized every year in the US alone (1).

Chickenpox is an irritating problem. Those red rashes are itchy, and your kid gets frustrated because she can’t go to school or play with her friends.

MomJunction tells you everything about chickenpox in kids – why it is caused, its symptoms, the care you should take and more.

What Is Chickenpox?

Chickenpox is a highly contagious infection caused by varicella zoster virus, a member of the herpes virus family. This virus is also responsible for shingles.

Chickenpox results in itchy rashes and blisters all over the body and causes a fever.

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[ Read: What Causes Smallpox In Kids ]

What Causes Chickenpox?

Chickenpox spreads easily from an infected person to others, one to two days before the blisters appear and until all the blisters have crusted over (2). Your child may get chickenpox from:

  • Physical contact with the blisters or its fluids of the infected person a cough and sneeze of the infected person
  • Therefore, keep your child away from the family members and friends who are infected, especially if the kid has a higher risk of contracting it.

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Who Is At A Higher Risk Of Getting Chickenpox?

Chickenpox mostly occurs in children younger than ten years.

If you had contracted it previously or received the vaccine, then your baby will not catch the infection if she is less than one year of age, and is being breastfed. If she still does, it is mostly mild.

Chickenpox is more common in children with a weak immune system.

The chickenpox rash develops 10 to 21 days after being exposed to the virus. The child develops around 200 to 500 blisters.

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What Are The Symptoms Of Chickenpox in Kids?

The most prominent symptom of chickenpox is the blisters. The other symptoms that your child might have are:

  1. Fever
  2. A headache
  3. Stomach ache
  4. Sore throat
  5. Loss of appetite
  6. Tiredness

More about blisters:

  • Are generally red, small, itchy and filled with fluid.
  • First appear on the face, torso, back or scalp.
  • After two days or so, the first blisters may scab but new ones appear.
  • Commonly appear in the mouth cavity, genital areas, and on the eyelids.
  • Kids with skin diseases like eczema may even have around 1,000 blisters.

The blisters usually disappear in a few days. But you need to look out for certain symptoms, which need medical attention.

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[ Read: Can Children Get Shingles ]

When To Call A Doctor?

Some children may suffer from a serious case of chickenpox. You need to call a healthcare provider in the below cases:

  1. The child has fever for more than four days
  2. The temperature is above 102°F (38.8°C)
  3. The rashes or any body part becomes red, warm or tender and leaks pus due to infection
  4. Extreme weakness
  5. Difficulty in waking up, walking, breathing
  6. Stiff neck
  7. Frequent vomiting
  8. Non-stop cough
  9. Severe abdominal pain

Even if the child does not have the above symptoms, it is good to take your child to a doctor if you suspect chickenpox.

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How Is Chickenpox Diagnosed And Treated?

The doctor will diagnose the case through a physical examination of the rashes. They will ask you about the kid’s medical history. If required, a blood test may be recommended.


The treatment mainly focuses on relieving the symptoms. In severe cases, antiviral drugs are prescribed (3).

  • Acyclovir is a safe treatment for chickenpox, if it is administered within 24 hours of getting the blisters (1).
  • Lotions and gels containing zinc, polidocanol, tannins and menthol can be applied on the skin to provide relief from the blisters.
  • Over-the-counter oral antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) may be given but talk to your doctor about their efficacy and safety.
  • Apply hydrocortisone cream on the itchy areas and blisters.
  • Antiviral drugs are not prescribed to healthy children who do not have severe symptoms. They may be beneficial for kids with skin problems, like eczema.
  • Do not use aspirin because varicella and aspirin therapy might lead to a health condition called Reye syndrome. Ibuprofen also does not work for chickenpox, so you may use acetaminophen (paracetamol) to reduce fever.

Children with chickenpox need care and attention at home, in addition to lotions and creams.

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[ Read: Common Skin Rashes In Children ]

How Can You Make Your Child Feel Better?

Make your child feel as comfortable as possible. You may take these measures at home:

  • Make sure your kid is not scratching or rubbing the itchy rashes.
  • Trim your kid’s fingernails short to avoid skin damage from scratching.
  • Make them wear light, loose and cool clothes or bedclothes.
  • Don’t make the child wear anything tight, or woolly, which could irritate the rashes.
  • Give them a lukewarm bath daily. Use some soap, and wash thoroughly.
  • You may give them a relaxing cornstarch or oatmeal bath.
  • Apply a mollifying moisturizer on their body to soften the skin after bath.
  • Make them gargle warm salt water to get relief from mouth sores.
  • Avoid exposure to hot and humid weather.
  • Serve cold foods, and avoid foods that are sour, spicy or difficult to chew if the child has mouth sores.

Chickenpox is not usually life-threatening. Approximately one in 50,000 cases lead to death. But by preventing the disease, you can rule out any possibility of your child going through this pain.

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How to prevent chickenpox?

Keep the child away from the family members or friends who have chickenpox. However, this may not be fool-proof because the virus is airborne and spreads easily even before the rash appears.

The best way to prevent chickenpox is through vaccination. Children who have never had chickenpox should get two doses of varicella vaccine (4).

  • 1st dose: between 12 and 15 months of age
  • 2nd dose: between four and six years of age.

However, the vaccine should not be given if:

The child is allergic to any of the ingredients in the vaccine or had a serious reaction to the previous dose of the vaccine.

  • Had a blood transfusion in the past 11 months.
  • Have a fever or other illness at the time of vaccination.

If your child shows any reaction after the vaccination, then take them to a doctor.

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[ Read: What Are The Common Bacterial And Fungal Infections ]

Does Chickenpox Vaccine Have Any Side-effects?

Severe side-effects are rare with the chickenpox vaccine.

Some mild side-effects include:

  • low fever
  • mild rashes
  • muscle ache

The benefits of the vaccine outweigh its side-effects because it prevents the child from having some complications resulting from chickenpox.

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What Are The Complications Of Chickenpox?

Most children recover without complications.

1. However, after getting chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in the body for a lifetime. As a result, about 1 in 10 adults contracts shingles when the virus becomes active for a second time.

2. Other possible complications include:

  • Reye’s syndrome
  • Pneumonia
  • Dehydration
  • Encephalitis
  • Bacterial infection of the skin and soft tissues, including Group A streptococcal infections (5)

Below we answer some questions that you might want to ask about chickenpox.

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can you get chickenpox twice?

It is rare to contract chickenpox twice. However, it cannot be completely ruled out. If chickenpox comes for the second time, it is usually a mild case.

2. Can my child go to school or play if she has chickenpox?

If your child has chickenpox, she should not go to school or play with other children until all the sores have scabbed. The Chicken pox virus is highly contagious and could spread from your child to the others.

[ Read: Loss Of Appetite In Kids ]

3. Can children with chickenpox vaccine get shingles?

Shingles can be contracted only if the child has had chickenpox. The virus stays dormant in the body and can cause shingles years later. Although possible, children with chickenpox vaccine have rare chances of getting shingles.

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Chickenpox may not harm your child in any way. The fever subsides in three to four days and the blisters are gone in around ten days. It is usually not life-threatening either. However, those itchy rashes, coupled with fever, could make the child suffer. You can help relieve the uneasiness through some home care, and soothing lotions.

Do you have an experience to share? Let us know in the comment section below.

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