Expert Advice

Chickenpox Exposure

Pediatrics Expert Advice from Henry Bernstein, M.D.

Q
My child was exposed to chickenpox in her kindergarten class. Will she get them? What do I need to look for? And should I have her vaccinated for chickenpox right away to prevent her from getting them?
A
Has your daughter ever had chickenpox before? It's unusual to get it more than once. Assuming she's never had it, it is quite possible she will, as chickenpox is highly contagious, particularly when the exposure is for more than four hours.

Once exposed, you won't know whether your child has chickenpox for at least 10 days and for as long as 21 days. That's the waiting period for the first sign -- red spots -- to appear. These spots start on the chest, belly, or back. They are raised, red, and become fluid-filled within 24 hours or so. The spots are often itchy and seem to spread all over the body quickly. There can be hundreds of them. She may run a fever, not eat as much, be bothered by the itching, and just feel "under the weather."

If you think she has chickenpox, keep her home from school until all the spots are crusted over -- usually about one week. If there is no sign of the disease after 21 days, your child has escaped for now, until the next exposure.

About rushing to have her vaccinated -- I am not aware of evidence that having the vaccine right after exposure will prevent chickenpox.

Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.

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