feeling icky:
symptoms of chicken pox & other infectious diseases

children dressed as doctors

Telling the difference between a harmless spot and a nasty skin condition is an essential parental superpower. Our guide can help you figure out whether your little one has a touch of the flu or something more infectious.

chicken pox

Ah, chicken pox! This is one of the most common childhood illnesses, and the most obvious symptom is the rash of itchy red spots. Some children might have a high temperature and feel a bit sick, too. Chicken pox is infectious from a couple of days before the rash appears, and until all the blisters have crusted over (usually five or six days after the rash began). It's considered a fairly mild disease, but it's likely to make your child feel pretty uncomfortable – not least because the spots are so incredibly itchy.

Read more about how to help your child through chicken pox >>


Measles is really rare these days because most babies are given the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine. It starts like the common cold, with a runny nose, dry cough and sore eyes. Other early signs can include fever, white spots inside the mouth and sometimes an ear infection. The measles rash usually appears first on the head or neck, which soon spreads into a rash all over the body. Measles itself isn't serious, although it's really itchy and uncomfortable. It can however, cause other serious conditions like encephalitis or pneumonia. Phone your GP if your child is seriously unwell, has an earache or a chest infection.

Read more about measles, the symptoms and treatments >>


This is another rare disease, thanks to MMR. Your child will seem a bit under the weather for a couple of days before the glands in their neck swell up. Their face will look swollen, they'll have a dry mouth, and it'll be painful to swallow. They might also have a mild fever. Mumps usually gets better on its own after a week or so, but can develop into meningitis or encephalitis, which are both really serious. If you suspect your child has mumps, it's really important to visit your GP – and let them know in advance so they can minimise the chance of the disease being spread around the surgery.

Read more about mumps in children >>

rubella AKA German measles

Rubella puts the 'R' in MMR. As such it's really rare, but if your child hasn't been vaccinated they might catch it. The symptoms are similar to regular measles, starting off in a similar way to the common cold and turning into a full body rash spreading from the face. Swollen glands around the neck and a mild fever are also quite common, although your child shouldn't feel too unwell aside from that. Although it's not dangerous to your child, rubella is very dangerous to pregnant women. It can cause birth defects such as blindness and deafness, so you don't want to risk infecting anyone. It's best to keep your little one quarantined in the house (with their favourite Disney films) until their symptoms clear up.

Read more about spotting the symptoms of German Measles >>

whooping cough

This bacterial infection is one of the most serious childhood illnesses. It clogs your child's airways with mucus so they have trouble breathing. It shows itself as a dry, irritating and persistent cough which can turn into violent attacks. Some children throw up after coughing, and make a whooping noise when they breathe afterwards. The sound comes from sucking air past their larynx, which is all swollen. Babies under one year old can't really do this which is why it's so important to keep any infected children away from infants. The coughing can last up to ten weeks, and can develop into pneumonia or bronchitis. Phone 999 immediately if your child turns blue, has long periods of shallow breathing or other significant breathing problems, has a fit or won't wake up.

Read more about whooping cough in babies >>

help! it's none of the above

Little ones pick up little bugs all the time, and it's usually nothing to worry about. Make sure they drink plenty of fluids and keep an eye on their temperature to make sure they're not too hot. No one knows your baby like you, so if you're really worried speak to your doctor or health visitor for reassurance.