How long does chickenpox last? When do symptoms go away, how long is it contagious - and is there treatment

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

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

But how long does it last, is it contagious and with monkeypox cases rising in the UK, are the symptoms similar to chickenpox?

How long does chickenpox last?

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

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

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

The illness begins with:

  • high temperature
  • headache
  • muscle aches
  • backache
  • swollen glands
  • chills
  • exhaustion

A rash then usually begins one to five days after the first symptoms appear. The spots often start on the face before spreading to other parts of the body.

During the illness, the rash then changes from raised red bumps, to spots filled with fluid, with the spots eventually forming scabs which later fall off.

Lymphadenopathy, which is the swelling of the lymph nodes, is also a distinctive feature of monkeypox compared to other diseases that may initially appear similar, such as chickenpox.

Monkeypox is caused by members of the poxvirus family, but chickenpox is caused by the Varicella zoster virus and is not related to the poxviruses.

WHO said: “Lymphadenopathy during the prodromal stage of illness can be a clinical feature to distinguish monkeypox from chickenpox or smallpox.”

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.

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?

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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