Chicken pox

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Chicken pox is one of the most common infectious diseases of childhood and is highly contagious. It is easily recognised by its distinctive rash.


Chicken pox occurs most frequently in children under 9 years old, and is characterised by symptoms such as:

  • A very itchy, spotty rash that spreads from the torso to the limbs
  • The rash advances from these red spots to raised pimples and then into fluid-filled blisters which eventually drain and form a crust (scab)
  • Headache, high fever and chills may occur at the same time or may slightly precede the rash
  • Usually runs its course in two weeks, although may be more serious in adults and new born babies


Chicken pox is caused by the herpes zoster virus.

It is spread by droplets from a sneeze or cough, or by contact with the clothing, bed linen, or oozing blisters of an infected person.

The time between infection and commencement of symptoms averages from 13 to 18 days but can take as long as 21 days; the disease is most contagious a day before the rash appears and up to 7 days after, or until the rash forms scabs.

People who have had chicken pox almost always develop lifetime immunity to the condition, but the virus often remains dormant in the body and may sometimes recur as shingles later in life. Although some infants may have partial immunity in the first six months of life, all infants must be considered to be susceptible to the disease from birth. (Ref Merck Index and Funk and Wagnall family medical guide)

Diet and lifestyle

Trim your child's fingernails or cover the hands with socks or mittens to prevent scratching, which could lead to infection as well as to possible scarring.

Home remedies for itching can be effective - try adding 3 grams each of rosemary and calendula teas to a litre of water; bring to the boil, then simmer for five minutes. Strain, discard the herbs, and allow the wash to cool. Press a washcloth dampened in the solution to the child's skin after a bath - this wash can be used for three days if kept air-tight in the refrigerator.

Using a "sponge" containing oats in the bath is another method which can also be used to reduce the itch. Put a handful of rolled oats (the kind you use to make porridge) in the foot of a stocking and hold it over the tap to run the bath water through it. When the bath is full, tie a knot in the stocking and use it to sponge the itchy skin.

Chicken pox is extremely contagious. Keep your child home until most of the vesicles are dry and the scabs have fallen off. Avoid contact with children and adults infected with chicken pox in order to avoid catching it yourself.

Important notes

If you are pregnant, it is important that you avoid contact with anyone who may have chicken pox. Consult your healthcare professional if

  • You think your child has chicken pox
  • The rash produces a greenish discharge
  • Your child is recovering from chicken pox and begins running a fever, vomiting, or has convulsions
  • An adult family member gets chicken pox