An attack of chickenpox is heralded by a highly irritating rash which starts on the body and spreads to the arms, legs, face and head.
The rash begins as raised pink spots which change to watery blisters. These then burst or shrivel up, and form scabs. The spots appear in crops over about four days.
The patient has a slightly raised temperature and may feel quite ill for three or four days.
Chickenpox patients are infectious from about four days before the rash appears until all the blisters have formed scabs. The scabs disappear about a fortnight after they begin to form. An attack of chickenpox usually means you can’t get it again.
What you should do
Most cases of chickenpox do not need medical attention, and can be treated at home.
• Keep the rash clean and dry by having a quick shower every day and patting the skin dry.
• Apply calamine lotion to the rash with cotton wool twice daily to ease the itching.
• Do not pick the spots, or they will leave little pockmarks.
• Drink plenty of liquid. It does not matter if the patient refuses food during the illness.
• Rest, and take paracetamol in the doses recommended on the container to reduce fever and discomfort.
• There is no need to isolate a child infected with chickenpox from your other children, because it is better to have the infection in childhood than in adult life. But keep the patient away from children who are being treated for serious diseases.
• Try to avoid spreading the infection to babies under six months and to women in late pregnancy.
• Avoid spreading the infection to elderly people. They may develop shingles, a painful and sometimes long-lasting disease.
When to call the doctor
See your doctor if:
• The patient has a high temperature, is vomiting or is coughing excessively.
• The patient becomes drowsy, or develops a severe headache or becomes confused.
• The eyes themselves (not simply the eyelids) are affected.
• The spots become infected.