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Difference Between Chickenpox & Shingles

January 17, 2020 | Abigail Mckay

Before the chickenpox vaccine, the varicella-zoster virus was rampant in children worldwide. However, after the vaccine was developed, chickenpox became virtually non-existent. Shingles, however, is still a prevalent condition caused by the same virus as chickenpox. The likelihood of acquiring chickenpox and shingles is minuscule for those vaccinated for chickenpox. However, those who did not receive the vaccine, as a child or adult, are still at risk today.


Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease still active, but the chance of contracting the virus is slim due to the available vaccine. It is recommended to receive the vaccine, which comes in two doses, as a child. However, it is encouraged for adults to be immunized if an individual has not been vaccinated or has not had chickenpox. An unvaccinated child or adult with chickenpox will develop an itchy rash that will eventually scab over in 4 to 7 days. Initially, the inflammation is generally localized to the trunk and face but will spread to the entire body as the virus progresses. Other symptoms can include fatigue, lack of appetite, and a fever. The chickenpox vaccination, like any vaccine, does not promise immunity but significantly reduces the occurrence and symptom severity if it is contracted. 


 After chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in your body, usually attaching itself to nerve tissue in the spinal cord. Years later, typically, when a person is over 50, the virus can become active again, but this time it presents as shingles. Not every person who has had chickenpox will develop shingles. Shingles are excruciating, so doing everything possible to prevent the condition is crucial. Symptoms include a rash on one side of the body, which is painful and sensitive to touch. However, cases have been reported with no presenting inflammation but localized nerve pain that lasts for a few weeks. Other symptoms are fever, headache, and fatigue. Shingles, much like chickenpox, is highly contagious. The virus can be passed from the open sores to those who are not immune — for instance, an individual who has never been immunized or has never had chickenpox. However, the unprotected person will be infected with chickenpox instead of developing shingles. 


 As stated previously, there are vaccinations available for both chickenpox and shingles. The chickenpox vaccine is a routine vaccination administered in childhood. Still, it can be given into adulthood for those who had chickenpox as a child or were not immunized. The shingles vaccine is available to people over the age of 50. This vaccination may only be effective for up to five years, so staying aware and up-to-date on your immunizations is essential. It is a preventative measure and will not help if someone has shingles. Speak with a doctor at Cura4U to see if the chickenpox or shingles vaccine suits you.


Our clinical experts continually monitor the health and medical content posted on CURA4U, and we update our blogs and articles when new information becomes available. Last reviewed by Dr. Tayyab S. Akhtar on May 11th, 2023.