Chicken Pox

By Dr Evelyn Lewin

Chicken pox is a highly contagious viral infection. It is spread by respiratory droplets (usually from when a child with chicken pox sneezes or coughs around another child), or from touching someone who has it. It is a concern for pregnant women, as infection during pregnancy can cause serious health problems for the mother, and possible abnormalities in the developing baby. It is also a concern for small babies and those with poor immune systems. Complications can occur. These include pneumonia, bleeding disorders and inflammation in the brain. While serious, these complications are very unlikely. In most cases, children with chicken pox recover well. Immunisation against chicken pox helps prevent illness.


A child with chicken pox is generally unwell with possible low-grade fever. The child may have a sore throat and headache in the days before the rash appears. The main symptom is a blistering rash (which resembles fluid-filled bubbles). It is extremely itchy. The blisters usually start on the trunk (main part of the body) or face, before moving to arms and legs. They burst about five days after they appear, forming a scab. Children with chicken pox are infectious to others from 1-2 days before the rash begins, until the last blister has scabbed. Most children with chicken pox are unwell for around a week.


The best way to prevent illness is through vaccination. According to the Australian Government National Immunisation Program Schedule, vaccination should occur at 18 months of age. If your child contracts chicken pox, you can make her more comfortable. Paracetamol may reduce discomfort. Do not use aspirin. Rest and fluids are also important. Encourage your child not to scratch, or pick her scabs. Doing so can result in scars. Calamine lotion can help with itch. Children with chicken pox need to be kept separate from others until the last blister has dried. This includes staying home from childcare/school. Let your child’s daycare/school know if your child has chicken pox, as other children may be at risk. If you are concerned your child is unwell with chicken pox, see your GP for further advice. While not commonly needed, antiviral medication may help reduce symptoms, and reduce the risk of complications.

Reviewed by Dr Evelyn Lewin 25 February 2015 references
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This document has been developed and peer reviewed by a KIDS HEALTH Advisory Board Representative and is based on expert opinion and the available published literature at the time of review. Information contained in this document is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner.

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