Information for patients
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What is chickenpox?
Chickenpox is an infectious disease caused by a virus (a herpes virus). The infection is most common in children but also occurs in adults.
How is chickenpox caught and spread?
Chickenpox can easily be passed from person to person. It is spread by airborne droplets and close contact with an infected person. The disease develops 10 to 21 days after exposure to the virus and is infectious until the last spot has dried up (usually 5 to 7 days after the first spots appeared).
What are the signs and symptoms of chickenpox?
These can include:
- a high temperature (fever)
- loss of appetite
- vomiting (being sick).
Chickenpox usually clears up without treatment, but the infection is worse in adults.
If you have been exposed to chickenpox or shingles and are non-immune or classed as high risk due to a medical condition or pregnancy, you may be offered antiretroviral treatment. The treatment (an injection) can prevent or reduce how severe the infection is, if given within the first few days after coming into contact with the virus.
In hospital you will be cared for in a single room to prevent the spread of infection to others.
- rest where possible and wear light, loose cotton clothes
- drink plenty of fluids to help reduce any fever
- apply calamine lotion to the spots to reduce itching or take the medicine (antihistamine) which may be prescribed by your doctor. The rash may be painful so the use of painkillers may be needed. Antibiotics may be given if the spots become infected. Always follow the instructions provided in the leaflet supplied with your tablets
- keep the rash clean and dry. You must not pick or scratch the spots as this may cause permanent scarring.
What is shingles?
Once you have had chickenpox you develop lifelong immunity to it, and it is rare to catch chickenpox again.
Shingles is a reactivation of the chickenpox virus which mainly affects adults. It may be triggered by stress or being in poor health, often the cause is unknown.
You can only get shingles if you have had chickenpox.
What are the signs and symptoms of shingles?
These can include:
- a rash similar to that of chickenpox. The rash occurs on one side of the body, (often over the ribs) spreading over the affected nerve, but can sometimes affect half of the face or head. The rash will be present for about 7 days but the pain may last for longer.
What treatment is given for shingles?
Treatment for shingles is the same as for chickenpox.
If you are in hospital, you will be cared for in a single room to prevent the spread of infection to others. You will be prescribed painkillers for any pain and may be given creams or lotions for the rash.
Shingles is infectious, but less so than chickenpox. If you have shingles you can pass chickenpox to someone who has never had it before.
When can I go back to work or school?
You may return to work or school once you are fully recovered and the last spot has dried up (usually 5 to 7 days after the first spots appeared).
Is there anything else I should know?
Chickenpox is usually a mild illness and complications are rare. However, it can cause serious illness in adults, people with a low immune system and premature babies.
Chickenpox can affect the developing baby of a pregnant woman (especially during the early and very late stages) if she does not have natural immunity. This is rare, but if you are pregnant and you have been in contact with a person with chickenpox or shingles, you must contact your GP as soon as possible. You may need to have a blood test or may need treatment.
If you have any questions or concerns, please ask your GP or nurse. Contact your GP’s surgery during normal hours. Outside surgery hours you should contact your GP’s surgery for the Out of Hours Service number.
If you need further advice, or have problems you can talk to an infection prevention and control nurse.
Infection Prevention and Control Team
North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust
Telephone: 01642 383280
Opening hours: 9:00am to 5:00pm (Monday to Friday)
Further information is available from:
Telephone: 111 (when it is less urgent than 999).
Calls to this number are free from landlines and mobile phones or via the website.
Comments, concerns, compliments or complaints
Patient Experience Team (PET)
We are continually trying to improve the services we provide. We want to know what we’re doing well or if there’s anything which we can improve, that’s why the Patient Experience Team (PET) is here to help. Our Patient Experience Team is here to try to resolve your concerns as quickly as possible. The office is based on the ground floor at the University Hospital of North Tees if you wish to discuss concerns in person. If you would like to contact or request a copy of our PET leaflet, please contact:
Telephone: 01642 624719
Freephone: 0800 092 0084
Opening hours: Monday to Friday, 9:30am to 4:00pm
Email: [email protected]
Out of hours
Out of hours if you wish to speak to a senior member of Trust staff, please contact the hospital switchboard who will bleep the appropriate person.
Telephone: 01642 617617
Data protection and use of patient information
The Trust has developed Data Protection policies in accordance with Data Protection Legislation (UK General Data Protection Regulations and Data Protection Act 2018) and the Freedom of Information Act 2000. All of our staff respect these policies and confidentiality is adhered to at all times. If you require further information on how we process your information please see our Privacy Notices.
Telephone: 01642 383551
Email: [email protected]Privacy Notices
This leaflet has been produced in partnership with patients and carers. All patient leaflets are regularly reviewed, and any suggestions you have as to how it may be improved are extremely valuable. Please write to the Clinical Governance team, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, University Hospital of North Tees, TS19 8PE or:
Email: [email protected]
Leaflet reference: PIL1303
Date for review: 14 April 2024