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Chicken Pox Shingles

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What is Chickenpox?

Chicken pox is caused by a virus called varicella zoster, which belongs to the herpes group of viruses. Chicken pox usually starts out with body aches, loss of appetite, and fever. After a couple of days, a rash of red spots usually appears on the back or chest. These spots quickly become blisters that spread to the rest of the body. These blisters will open, then scab over within several days. The rash may then continue for 4 or more days longer, depending on how long it takes for the lesions to scab over and heal. Chickenpox are very itchy, and are generally accompanied by swollen lymph nodes and a sore throat.

Who Can Get Chickenpox?

Chickenpox most often occurs in childhood, but can be contracted by adults if they didn’t have it when they were a child. It’s unlikely that a person will have chickenpox more than once, however.

Is Chickenpox contagious?

Chicken pox is contagious either through direct contact with the fluid-filled blisters, or by inhaling the virus through airborne fluid particles. A person with chicken pox is contagious from 2 days prior to the rash appearing, until all of the lesions have scabbed over.

What are shingles? How are they related to chickenpox?

Although it is rare for a person to have chickenpox more than once, the virus may reappear as shingles years later. Shingles is a painful rash that is caused by the same virus as chickenpox, varicella-zoster, and can occur in anyone who has had chickenpox at some point in their lives. The virus is thought to be stored in nerve cells near the spinal cord, long after the chickenpox symptoms have vanished. It remains there until a weakened immune system allows it to escape, or reactivate.
Shingles often begins as a tingling pain just under the skin, and is sometimes accompanied by a burning sensation, itching, and muscle weakness. A rash of small blisters develops several days after the pain starts, usually on one side of the body, most often on the face or chest. These blisters generally scab over and heal within a couple of weeks, but the pain can sometimes persist for weeks or months afterward. While chickenpox is very common and is considered a relatively mild illness, shingles is more severe and can have long-lasting effects.

Who is most likely to get shingles?

Although shingles can occur in anyone who has had chickenpox, it is most common in people with a weak immune system, including anyone over the age of 50 or those with a preexisting illness such as cancer or HIV. Increased stress, fatigue, and prolonged use of medications that suppress the immune system may increase the risk of reactivating the virus. Excessive alcohol consumption and use of steroids, or similar drugs, can also contribute to the likelihood of developing shingles.

Is Shingles Contagious?

Shingles is contagious to anyone who has not had chickenpox. It is not possible for someone who has had chickenpox to “catch” shingles from another person. If someone has not had chickenpox, however, it is possible to contract the chickenpox virus from open shingles blisters. However, shingles cannot be contracted from exposure to someone who has chickenpox.


Treatment for shingles usually consists of a prescription for an antiviral medication, antihistamines or other soothing ointments to relieve the itching, and pain relievers such as Tylenol or Advil. Treatment typically focuses on relieving the symptoms of shingles, so that a patient can endure the duration of the rash more comfortably.

In order to help the rash heal more quickly and without scarring, it is important to keep the affected area clean, and to refrain from scratching in order to prevent scarring. Loose-fitting clothing is also recommended to prevent irritating the rash and causing pain from the sensitive nerves in the affected area.

What to do if pain persists?

Although the rash associated with dealer shingles generally goes away within a short amount of time, the pain and skin sensitivity often persists long after other symptoms have disappeared. This condition is known as post herpetic neuralgia or PHN, and can be severe and even debilitating to a certain degree. There is little that can be done to prevent this condition, and it is usually treated with prescription medications to relieve the pain.