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Chickenpox (varicella) is much less common in the U.S. than it used to be, thanks to the chickenpox vaccine. If someone does get chickenpox, the infection and the rash it causes will go away without treatment. But chickenpox spreads easily from person to person, so a child who has the virus should stay home until the rash is completely crusted over.

First Aid

Signs and Symptoms

  • The classic chickenpox rash begins as many small red bumps that look like pimples or insect bites. They appear in waves over 2 to 4 days, then develop into thin-walled blisters filled with fluid. The blister walls break, leaving open sores, which finally crust over to become dry, brown scabs. Because the rash comes in waves, all three stages of the chickenpox rash (red bumps, blisters, and scabs) appear on the body at the same time.
  • The rash usually starts on the belly or back and face. Then it spreads to almost everywhere else on the body, including the scalp, mouth, arms, legs, and genitals.

Kids also can have:

  • fever and chills
  • sore throat
  • headache
  • belly ache

What to Do

To help ease itchiness:

  • Use cool wet compresses or give baths in lukewarm water every 3–4 hours for the first few days. Oatmeal bath products, available at supermarkets and drugstores, can help to relieve itching. (Baths do not spread the rash.)
  • Pat (don't rub) the body dry.
  • Put calamine lotion on itchy areas (but don't use it on the face, especially near the eyes).
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist about pain-relieving creams to apply to sores in the genital area.
  • Ask the doctor about using over-the-counter (OTC) medicine to take by mouth for itching.

To prevent scratching:

  • Put mittens or gloves on your child's hands to avoid scratching during sleep. 
  • Trim fingernails and keep them clean.

If your child has blisters in their mouth:

  • Give cold, soft, bland foods because chickenpox in the mouth can make it hard to drink or eat. Avoid anything acidic or salty, like orange juice or pretzels.
  • Give your child acetaminophen to help relieve pain.

Never give aspirin to kids with chickenpox. It can lead to a serious illness called Reye syndrome

Get Medical Care if Your Child:

  • has a fever that lasts for more than 4 days
  • has a severe cough or trouble breathing
  • has an area of rash that leaks pus (thick, yellowish fluid) or becomes red, warm, swollen, or sore
  • has a severe headache
  • is very drowsy or has trouble waking up
  • has trouble looking at bright lights
  • has trouble walking
  • seems confused
  • is vomiting
  • seems very ill
  • has a stiff neck

Think Prevention!

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

To help keep the virus from spreading, family members should wash their hands well and often.

Medically reviewed by: Melanie L. Pitone, MD
Date reviewed: June 2022