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The chickenpox-shingles connection

Chickenpox is a contagious illness that is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). Until the vaccine became available in 1995, which has led to a stark decrease in cases, chickenpox was quite common in the US. As we age, chickenpox becomes less of a concern, and we worry more about its counterpart, shingles.

What does chickenpox look like?

Chickenpox usually begins with cold-like symptoms, such as a mild fever, and then turns into a rash of red itchy bumps that can appear all over the body—even in the mouth and throat, explains Krupaben Patel, MD, Family Medicine at ARC Liberty Hill in this recent article on MarthaStewart.com. "A person is generally ill for five to 10 days, but it can sometimes last up to two weeks," she says. "Most cases are mild, but for some it can be quite serious, especially for those with weak immune systems."

How does chickenpox spread?

Chickenpox is an airborne virus, which means it is very contagious and can spread via droplets that result from coughing or sneezing. "A person infected with the virus can spread it to other people for up to 48 hours before the rash appears and stay contagious until all broken blisters have crusted over. This usually means that, over the course of the disease, a person can be contagious for up to 14 days," says Dr. Patel.

What is chickenpox's connection to shingles?

If you had chickenpox as a child, you're still at risk for getting shingles—also known as herpes zoster which can occur many years after you've been infected with the original strain; in essence, shingles is a "reactivation" of the VCV.

What does shingles look like?

Unlike chickenpox, where the rash occurs all over the body, the shingles rash is limited to one area of skin—only on your right or left side. The painful sores, which appear in stripes, are most commonly found on the torso, but they can also occur on the face, involving the eyes, ears, or nose, causing serious neurological complications.

Is shingles contagious?

A patient with shingles can pass on the VCV to someone who isn't immune to chickenpox; this usually happens via direct contact with an open sore, which is why keeping scabs covered until they crust over is critical. The newly-infected person won't develop shingles, however—they will develop chickenpox.

What are chickenpox vaccination options?

Since 1995, the chickenpox vaccine has been routinely recommended for children and administered widely throughout the States. The vaccine is also available to adults, although it is not typically given to those born in the US before 1980, as most adults have had a childhood case and likely have lasting immunity.

What about a shingles vaccine?

If you know that you have never had the chickenpox, discuss getting the vaccine with your healthcare provider. Whatever the case—and whether or not you remember ever having the chickenpox—you should absolutely be vaccinated against shingles when you turn 50 years old, notes Dr. Patel, as this disease is more prevalent the older you become—and you can get it more than once.

Make an appointment today.

Make an appointment with Dr. Patel today at ARCBookNow.com or by calling 512-272-4636.

Tags: Chickenpox, shingles