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First Aid: Chickenpox

Chickenpox (varicella) is an illness that has become much less common in the U.S. due to the chickenpox vaccine. The infection and rash will go away without treatment, but because chickenpox is easily spread from person to another, a child infected with the virus should stay home until the rash is completely crusted over.

Signs and Symptoms

  • red bumps that look like pimples or insect bites
  • a small clear blister developing on top of the red bumps
  • similar sores in the mouth
  • dry crusted sores form over the blisters
  • an itchy rash that usually begins on the belly, back, or face and spreads to the arms and legs and elsewhere on the body
  • fever, chills
  • muscle and joint pain
  • headache

What to Do

To help relieve the itchiness, fever, and discomfort:

  • add 2 cups of oatmeal to a lukewarm bath
  • pat (not rub) the body dry
  • put calamine lotion on itchy areas (but not on the face, especially near the eyes, or on the genitals)
  • use diphenhydramine for severe itching
  • give your child acetaminophen as needed to help relieve pain from the sores on the skin or in the mouth (do not give aspirin or ibuprofen)
  • to avoid a bacterial infection, try to keep your child from scratching the rash

Seek Medical Care

If Your Child:

  • has a severe cough or trouble breathing
  • has an area of the rash that seems to be infected: red, warm to the touch, or leaking pus
  • is unusually drowsy or confused
  • seems very weak or ill
  • is unable to keep fluids down

Think Prevention!

To help prevent chickenpox, kids should receive the chickenpox vaccine when they're 12 to 15 months old, and a booster shot when they're 4 to 6 years old.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: April 2014