This is a very common and highly contagious skin rash which affects both babies and children. However, it is fairly unusual for babies to develop this during their first year of life. The reason for this is antibodies: these are passed through to the baby whilst it is still in the womb and act as a form of protection against this virus. So it is unusual for a baby to develop this but if they do then it is likely to be a mild infection. Children under 10 are most likely to develop this. Once they have experienced this condition they then develop an immunity to this which means that they unlikely to develop it again.

In fact, around 90% of adults in the UK who had chickenpox as children have developed a resistance to this condition.

But there is some evidence to show that it may be possible to develop chickenpox for a second time.

(Source: NHS Choices: Health A-Z: Chickenpox)

Chickenpox in babies is more of an irritant than a serious illness but complications can occur. These are discussed in more detail later on in this section.

Symptoms of chickenpox

Most people think of a rash when asked about chickenpox but your baby may show other symptoms before that appears.

Your baby may be tired and feverish with a cough and a runny nose. He/she may feel sick and have a general loss of appetite.

These symptoms appear a couple of days before the characteristic red rash. This rash consists of a series of red spots which appear on the face and scalp before spreading to the rest of the body. These spots then change to itchy, fluid-filled blisters which dry out and fall off after a couple of weeks. Some babies have a few spots but others develop a rash which covers their whole body.

Causes of chickenpox

This is caused by a virus called ‘varicella zoster’ which is easily transmitted between people. If someone with this virus sneezes or touches someone then it easy to pass onto that person.

Your baby may have been in contact with someone with this condition or in an environment where germs from the virus are in the air. It is very easy for a baby or child to pick up this skin condition.

Treatment of chickenpox

If your baby is less than a month old and has developed chickenpox then see your GP as there may be a risk of complications.

If your baby is older than this then do the following:

  • Keep him/her at home until the blisters have dried out and fallen off.
  • Bath him/her in cool water every four hours to relieve the itching. Then put calamine lotion on the spots.
  • Give your baby an over the counter painkiller such Paracetamol or Ibuprofen if he/she has a temperature. If you are not sure then ask your pharmacist or GP for advice. Do NOT give your baby aspirin as there is a link between this and potentially fatal condition called ‘Reye’s Syndrome’. Babies and children under 16 should never be given aspirin.
  • Stop your baby from rubbing or scratching at the rash. This is easy to say but stopping your baby from doing so will prevent any scarring or the risk of impetigo. Put mittens or socks over your baby’s hands to prevent him/her from doing so.
  • Dress your baby in loose fitting clothing. This will prevent him/her from overheating as well as irritating the skin.
  • Ensure that your baby has plenty to drink. There is a risk of dehydration with this condition which is problematic for babies so keep the fluids going.

Complications of chickenpox

Chickenpox is usually a mild condition but on rare occasions complications can develop which include:

  • Bacterial skin infection
  • Pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs)
  • Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
  • Immune system disorder, e.g. leukaemia

If your baby has a weakened immune system, for example from taking oral steroids for asthma then this can lead to complications. Contact your GP if your baby shows the early signs of chickenpox.

Contact your GP if your baby’s condition worsens; he/she develops a high fever, the rash spreads into his/her eyes or the rash becomes swollen and inflamed. A positive aspect of this is if your baby does have chickenpox then it is highly unlikely that he/she will get it again. This is because your baby will produce antibodies which will protect him/her against a further attack. It is rare to have a second outbreak of chickenpox.

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