What is chickenpox?
Chickenpox is caused by a virus called the varicella-zoster virus, and is very common in children under 10. Most cases of chickenpox occur in winter and spring.
How is it caught?
Chickenpox is spread through the air, usually by coughing and sneezing, as the virus resides in saliva and mucus, and also through contact with the fluid from blisters. Chickenpox is highly infectious, and your little one can contract it by simply spending 15 minutes in the same room as an infected child.
What are the symptoms?
Chickenpox causes clusters of small, itchy red spots, which develop into fluid-filled, itchy blisters. These then crust over to form scabs, which eventually drop off. The amount of spots differs from child to child - some may have only a few spots, while others may develop a rash over their entire body. The spots are most likely to appear on the face, ears and scalp, under the arms, on the chest, stomach, arms and legs. There may be an accompanying headache and fever, too.
How should I treat it?
You can treat chickenpox fairly easily yourself, it's just a case of letting the virus run its course and making sure your little one is as comfortable as possible. Dress him in loose fitting cotton fabrics to stop the skin being irritated further, and relieve itching with age-appropriate paracetemol and calamine lotion or cooling gel, available from your pharmacist. It's important for children not to scratch the spots, too - as this can cause scarring. Keep fingernails clean and short, and put socks over your child's hands at night to stop them scratching as they sleep! To prevent spreading the infection, keep your little one off nursery or school until all the spots have scabbed over, and try to avoid contact with those who haven't had the virus - particularly people who are at risk of serious problems, such as newborn babies, pregnant women and anyone with a weakened immune system.
How long will it last?
For most children, the blisters will crust over and fall off naturally within one to two weeks. Chickenpox is most infectious from one to two days before the rash starts, until all the blisters have crusted over.
Can it ever turn into a more serious illness?
Chickenpox is normally mild, but some children can become more seriously ill. Contact your GP immediately if your child's condition deteriorates, or you spot any abnormal symptoms such as infected blisters, difficulty breathing or a persistent fever. Pregnant women or mothers with newborn babies should also seek medical advice if they come into contact with someone with chickenpox, as the virus can be potentially more serious for them.
Can you catch it more than once?
Yes! It's unlikely, as the majority of those who have had chickenpox will develop a resistance to the virus. However, a small percentage of people simply don't develop antibodies to the infection so can become infected with chickenpox again.
FEEL BETTER TIPS
* Get a paintbrush and buy some calamine lotion. Decant a little of the lotion into an empty yogurt pot and let her distract herself from the itching by 'painting her spots better'.
* This milky oatmeal bath trick is very soothing - put a few handfuls of oats in a clean popsock, tie in a knot to secure the open end, and then let it float in your baby's bath.
* An antihistamine can relieve the urge to scratch. Try Piriton Syrup, £3.99. Not suitable for babies under 1.
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