What is chickenpox?

Chickenpox (varicella zoster virus) is a common viral infection and usually affects children – however, you can get it at any age. It is incredibly contagious, and the main symptom of the condition is the development of small, itchy spots all over the body. These usually look red, pink, or dark and can be painful. As chickenpox progresses, these spots become blisters and can be extremely itchy. Alongside a spotty rash, people often experience an elevated temperature, feel unwell, and lose their appetite.

What is the risk of chickenpox to unborn babies for pregnant women, if any?

If you are pregnant and have chickenpox, it can potentially put you and your baby at risk, but it depends on which stage of pregnancy you’re in. For example, you might be at heightened risk of conditions such as pneumonia if you contract chickenpox whilst pregnant. If chickenpox develops up to 20 weeks of pregnancy, unborn babies are at slight risk of a rare group of serious birth defects known as congenital varicella syndrome.

If chickenpox develops immediately before, or up to 48 hours after birth, there is a risk that the baby could be born with a potentially life-threatening version of chicken pox called neonatal varicella. It’s therefore important to seek urgent medical advice if you think you might have chickenpox whilst pregnant.

The reassuring news is that you are far less likely to contract chickenpox if you have had it before and most adults at child-rearing age will have likely had it within their lifetime already.

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Can babies/children get a chickenpox vaccination?

Chickenpox vaccinations are not routinely given via the NHS in the UK, but they are on many international schedules. However, the NHS do provide vaccines if there’s a clinical need, such as those who are in close contact with someone who has a weakened immune system. The chicken pox vaccination is available privately for your child from the age of 1 year and requires two doses. Read here for more information on the chicken pox vaccine

Are there side effects with the chickenpox vaccine?

The most common side effects are usually mild and go away on their own. Severe allergic reactions following vaccination are rare. Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction can include hives, swelling of the face and throat, difficulty breathing, a fast heartbeat, dizziness, and weakness and always needs emergency treatment.

How should you help your child if they have chickenpox?

Chickenpox can and should be treated at home and your child should remain away from nursery or school until all the spots have formed a scab – this is usually around 5 days after spots have appeared.

The following at-home remedy and treatments should be effective when it comes to helping a child with chickenpox:

  • Drink plenty of fluid to avoid dehydration
  • Speak to a pharmacist about taking antihistamine medicines to help alleviate itching and irritation
  • Use cooling over-the-counter creams or gels to soothe the skin
  • Do not scrub skin too much when washing or drying your child’s skin
  • Dress your child in loose clothes
  • Give them paracetamol to help with any pain and feeling unwell
  • Try to stop your child from scratching their skin, causing blistering, and scarring as much as possible. Cutting their fingernails could help with this if they do scratch

If your child is particularly unwell and experiencing any other symptoms, please speak to your GP or a paediatrician K  for advice. Read more information on chickenpox from Dr Yiannis is available here.

Dr Yiannis Ioannou, Consultant Paediatrician at The Portland Hospital (part of HCA Healthcare UK)

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