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Will I Still Get Herpes Zoster (Shingles) if I Had Chicken Pox?

Shingles is one of the more painful and potentially aggressive skin conditions one can develop. And, unfortunately, it’s relatively common in adults. It’s estimated that over 200,000 people are affected by shingles in the U.S. each year and that half of the U.S. population will experience signs of shingles by the age of 80. The good news is that in most cases this virus clears up in a matter of days. Still, dealing with shingles at all is a hassle, especially during the later stages of life, so you might wonder what your chances of getting it are.

One of the more common questions people have about shingles is whether they’ll still get it if they’ve had chickenpox in the past. The short answer is this: not necessarily. But, as it turns out, this isn’t exactly the right question to ask. Rather, it’s more helpful to go over what causes shingles and how it relates to chickenpox in the first place.

What is Shingles and What Causes it?

The medical name for shingles is herpes zoster. The varicella-zoster virus is to blame for shingles symptoms, which include itchy blisters on certain areas of one’s skin, stabbing or shooting pain where said blisters are located, fever, chills, nausea, headache, and more. This virus is highly contagious, passing from one host to another, mainly via direct contact. Indeed, most people contract the varicella-zoster virus early in their lives. If that’s the case, though, why do adults tend to get shingles and not children? The answer has to do with chickenpox.

How Shingles Relates to Chickenpox

As it turns out, the shingles virus (varicella-zoster) is actually the exact same virus that causes chickenpox. When varicella-zoster first enters one’s body, it leads to chickenpox prior to shingles. In other words, you can’t develop shingles at all without first undergoing chickenpox.

That said, shingles often doesn’t appear directly after a chickenpox episode. Rather, once the chickenpox subsides, the varicella-zoster virus lies in wait, usually for several decades, still alive and in the body but in a sort of stasis. For reasons still not fully understood, the virus may then awaken one day and travel along your skin’s nerve fibers, leading to a painful shingles rash.

Are Your Guaranteed to Get Shingles if You’ve had Chickenpox?

The better question to ask here is whether you’re guaranteed to develop shingles if you’ve had chickenpox. And once again, the answer is no, not necessarily. It’s worth noting once more, however, that having had chickenpox in the past is a prerequisite for getting shingles at some point in your life. So, if you’ve never had chickenpox but suddenly contract the varicella-zoster virus, you will first develop chickenpox, regardless of your age. From that point on, you’re at risk of developing shingles.

What to Do About Shingles

Considering how prevalent shingles is not only in the U.S. but around the world, you may wonder what can be done about shingles should you develop symptoms. As of now, there is no cure for the varicella-zoster virus, but there are many ways to treat shingles symptoms, decrease their duration, and lower your chances of experiencing them at all. Shingles treatment options include:

  • Antiviral medications such as Famciclovir (Famvir), Acyclovir (Zovirax), and Valacyclovir (Valtrex)
  • Medicated lotions and numbing creams (lidocaine)
  • Over-the-counter painkillers (acetaminophen or ibuprofen)
  • Prescription painkillers (codeine)
  • Cool compresses
  • Anticonvulsant drugs such as gabapentin (Neurontin)
  • Antidepressants such as amitriptyline

In addition to these treatments, there are also shingles vaccinations available, Shingrix and Zostavax. These are recommended for people over the age of 50.

If you have more questions or concerns regarding shingles, chickenpox, and any other skin condition, the experts at Premier Dermatology can help. To learn more about our providers and all the services we offer, contact us today.

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