Chickenpox, What’s the Deal?!

August 7, 2015
Baby and toddler sickness - chickenpox

Chickenpox is one of those illnesses you dread your kids getting. I don’t know about you but I can remember when I had them, and it was not pleasant! When my oldest was 15 months old, the message on the whiteboard at his preschool that there was a confirmed case of chickenpox sent dread through me! After a week had passed I thought we were safe, but on day 11 sure enough the dreaded spots appeared. I hadn’t realised the incubation period was actually 10-21 days.

Being 15 months old he actually coped remarkably well. We had a couple of bad nights, and he had them fairly mildly. But this got me worried he might get them again. If a child only gets a mild dose first time around, its possible their bodies don’t quite build the immunity level needed to prevent getting them again. So sure enough, just before his 3rd birthday he caught round two! According to our GP, if a child gets them under 2 years of age it is also more common to get them again, as their bodies don’t produce the level of anti bodies needed for future protection.

By all accounts he had them fairly mildly again this time. There were more spots than the first time, but certainly not as bad as some kids I’ve seen. And I do think the younger they are when they get them, the better they cope. It was fairly easy to distract him with his favourite TV programs. He also celebrated his 3rd birthday while covered in spots, so opening presents and new toys were also a welcome distraction! The worst part was he also had an ear infection and a mild temperature, which I’m pretty sure made him feel worse than the actual chickenpox.

Fast forward two weeks. This whole time we had been holding our breaths waiting to see if our baby of 4 months was also going to catch them. The thought of my little baby getting them was too much! We had been super careful as soon as we knew the first child had them. But the problem is you are contagious for 2-5 days before the spots actually appear. So we knew our efforts were probably futile. My one hope was that bubs still had enough residual maternal immunity to fight them off. Its less common for babies under 6 months to get chickenpox if the mother has already had them, as they get a cross over of their immunity. At the very least I think it lessens the severity.

But unfortunately 14 days after we first noticed the spots on child number 1, a couple of spots appeared on bubs. We are now 5 days in with round 2, and by all accounts it hasn’t been too bad. He’s been a bit unsettled, and more tired than usual, but other than that and the spots he’s been surprisingly ok!

So, based on my own personal experience and the research I have done through both bouts of the pox, here is some helpful information.

Warning signs and symptoms

  • Incubation period can be anywhere from 10-21 days after exposure to the virus.
  • The night before we first noticed the spots our oldest had quite an unsettled night. The following morning he was tired, lethargic, off his food and had a small temperature.
  • The spots for both of ours started on the scalp, face, bottom and tummy. They then spread to the arms and legs last. We noticed that skin areas already sensitive or prone to eczema got the spots first or worse.
  • The spots have a blister head on them.


Its important to get advice from your doctor, especially for very small children. And what works for one child might not work for another. But here is what we did:

  • Calamine lotion. The effectiveness of this has been debated, but its still widely used.
  • Pinetarsol. This is a liquid that you put into the bath to help soothe the itching of the spots. Its smells strong, but is effective at relieving the itch.
  • Soov. This is a cream/gel which we’ve used for years on insect bites. We used this on his worst spots.
  • Anti-histamine.  You obviously need to talk to a doctor or pharmacist first, but second time around our son was old enough to take an anti-histamine. We used this at night to help him sleep.
  • Keep finger nails short to lessen damage if they scratch!

Further Information

You can find more information on chickenpox at these websites:

  • Anna September 4, 2015 at 10:30 am

    Now I don’t want to start a vaccination debate but was just wondering if kids are vaccinated for chicken pox in NZ? My kids have both had vaccinations in Oz. They can still catch them apparently but very mild. Luckily we haven’t had to deal with the pox yet only Hand Foot and Mouth :(

    • Gemma September 4, 2015 at 10:47 am

      Its not currently on the vaccination schedule in NZ but you can choose to pay to have them vaccinated once they are 9 months old. Although I think they might be adding it in soon. And yeah its my understanding that if you have the vaccination you could still get them mildly (just as you can still get them again if you’ve already had them once). Luckily we haven’t had hand foot and mouth yet!