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What to do if your child has chickenpox

© iStockphoto / Steve Wilson © iStockphoto / Steve Wilson

(HealthDay News) -- Have a child with chickenpox? Don't despair. There are a number of things you can do to care for a child with this disease.

"For most healthy children, chickenpox clears on its own without treatment," said Dr. Sheila Fallon Friedlander, a professor of pediatrics and dermatology at the University of California, San Diego.

However, chickenpox is highly contagious. That makes it important to keep your child at home or limit contact with other people, Friedlander said in an American Academy of Dermatology news release. This should be the case until all the chickenpox blisters have formed scabs, which usually takes a week, and there are no new blisters.

To relieve itchiness, she suggests giving your child baths with colloidal oatmeal. You can get this at drugstores. Add the oatmeal under the faucet while filling the tub with lukewarm -- not hot -- water.

After bathing, apply a topical ointment. Good options include calamine lotion, petroleum jelly or a fragrance-free, anti-itch lotion that contains pramoxine or menthol and camphor. Don't use over-the-counter topical antibiotics because they can cause an allergic reaction, Friedlander said.

Another option for relieving itchiness is an over-the-counter oral antihistamine for children. Follow the label directions and be sure to use the correct dose, she said.

To relieve fever, use non-aspirin medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Don't use aspirin or products that contain aspirin. Aspirin use in children with chickenpox has been linked with a severe condition -- Reye's syndrome -- that affects the liver and brain and can cause death, Friedlander said.

Another tip from Friedlander: Keep your child's fingernails trimmed short. This reduces the risk for skin infections caused by scratching the blisters. Put socks or mittens on young children's hands to prevent scratching. Prevent your child from picking at the chickenpox, which can lead to scarring.

Though chickenpox usually clears on its own in time, "see a pediatrician or board-certified dermatologist if you have a newborn with chickenpox, if your child has a weakened immune system or has trouble breathing or if any of the blisters become infected," Friedlander said.

The best way to prevent chickenpox in the first place, Friedlander said, is to make sure children are vaccinated against the disease.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on chickenpox.

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