Can you catch chickenpox twice? How contagious is virus, can you get it from shingles and symptoms - explained

Chickenpox usually happens in three stages

Chickenpox is a viral infection that mostly affects children, although you can get it at any age.

But what are the symptoms and can you get it more than once?

Chickenpox is a viral infection that mostly affects children, although you can get it at any ageChickenpox is a viral infection that mostly affects children, although you can get it at any age
Chickenpox is a viral infection that mostly affects children, although you can get it at any age

Here’s what you need to know.

How long does chickenpox last?

Chickenpox usually gets better by itself after one to two weeks without needing to see a GP.

Can you get chickenpox twice?

According to the NHS, “it’s possible to get chickenpox more than once, but it’s unusual.”

What are the symptoms of chickenpox?

An itchy, spotty rash is the main symptom of chickenpox. This can be anywhere on the body.

According to the NHS, chickenpox happens in three stages, but new spots can appear while others are becoming blisters or forming a scab.

Stage 1 - Small spots appear. The spots can:

  • be anywhere on the body, including inside the mouth and around the genitals, which can be painful
  • spread or stay in a small area
  • be red, pink, darker or the same colour as surrounding skin, depending on your skin tone

Stage 2 - The spots fill with fluid and become blisters. The blisters are very itchy and may burst.

Stage 3 - The blisters become scabs. Some scabs are flaky while others leak fluid.

Before or after the rash appears, you might also get:

  • a high temperature
  • aches and pains, and generally feeling unwell
  • loss of appetite

Is chickenpox contagious?

Yes. You can catch chickenpox by being in the same room as someone with it. It’s also spread by touching things that have fluid from the blisters on them.

You can spread chickenpox to other people from two days before your spots appear until they have all formed scabs, which is usually five days after your spots appeared.

The spots start appearing around one to three weeks after you caught chickenpox.

You will need to stay away from school, nursery or work until all the spots have formed a scab.

You should also not go near newborn babies, people who are pregnant and people with a weakened immune system, as chickenpox can be dangerous for them.

Can you get chickenpox from shingles?

According to the NHS, you cannot get shingles from someone with shingles or chickenpox, but you can get chickenpox from someone with shingles if you have not had chickenpox before.

When people get chickenpox, the virus remains in the body. It can then be reactivated later and cause shingles if someone’s immune system is lowered.

This can be because of stress, certain conditions, or treatments such as chemotherapy.

You cannot spread shingles to others, but people who have not had chickenpox before could catch chickenpox from those with shingles, and should try to avoid:

  • pregnant people who have not had chickenpox before
  • people with a weakened immune system 
  • babies less than one month old – unless you gave birth to them, as your baby should be protected from the virus by your immune system

You should also stay off work or school if the rash is still oozing fluid (weeping) and cannot be covered, or until the rash has dried out.

You can only spread the infection to other people while the rash oozes fluid.

How to treat chickenpox at home

You should:

  • drink plenty of fluid (try ice lollies if your child is not drinking) to avoid dehydration
  • take paracetamol to help with pain and discomfort
  • cut your child’s fingernails and put socks on their hands at night to stop them scratching
  • use cooling creams or gels from a pharmacy
  • speak to a pharmacist about using antihistamine medicine to help itching
  • bathe in cool water and pat the skin dry
  • dress in loose clothes

Don’t use ibuprofen unless advised to do so by a doctor, as it may cause serious skin infections, and don’t give aspirin to children under 16. Do not scratch the spots, as scratching can cause scarring.

Is there a vaccine for chickenpox?

You can get the chickenpox vaccine on the NHS if there’s a risk of harm to someone with a weakened immune system if you spread the virus to them.

For example, a child can be vaccinated if one of their parents is having chemotherapy.

You can also pay for the vaccine at some private clinics or travel clinics. It costs between £120 and £200.

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