As a child, you may have come down with a case of chicken pox. The disease was once common among children before a vaccine against it was developed, according to the Mayo Clinic. While it is usually a mild illness, it is contagious and people have died from it. Although people usually develop immunity to the disease after contracting it once, in some cases, the virus can be dormant in their bodies and re-emerge years later as shingles.
Chicken Pox Symptoms
Chicken pox has visible symptoms. A person usually develops a rash on her skin. The rash will feature red blisters that contain fluid and feel itchy. The blisters usually scab over toward the end of the illness, according to MayoClinic.com. Other symptoms of chickenpox include a fever and head and body aches. Simple treatments, such as rubbing calamine lotion on the rash, taking antihistamines and soaking in a tub may relieve the pain and itch.
The most common symptom of shingles is also an itchy, red rash. Before the rash appears, a person may experience pain or numbness on one side of his body, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Usually, the rash is in the form of a band that stretches from a person’s spine to his breastbone, according to the Mayo Clinic. For some people, the pain from shingles is unbearable. For others, it is mild. A person may take an anti-viral medication to control shingles.
The varicella zoster virus causes both shingles and chicken pox. The virus is a form of herpes, but it will not cause genital herpes or cold sores, according to MayoClinic.com. You can only get shingles if you have had chicken pox. While chicken pox usually occurs in small children, shingles usually occurs in older adults. As a person recovers from chicken pox, the virus moves into his nervous system, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. As you age, your immune system becomes weaker and the virus reawakens and travels back to your skin, along your nerves, according to MayoClinic.com.
Chicken pox is contagious. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or if a person comes into contact with an infected person’s rash. If a person who has not had chicken pox or shingles comes into contact with a person with shingles, he is likely to contract chicken pox. Chicken pox is riskier for older people, including teenagers. Risks include skin infections, brain swelling and pneumonia, according to the CDC.
Two vaccines exist to protect against chicken pox and/or shingles. One vaccine, Varivax, is designed for children and adults who have never contracted chicken pox. People who have had the disease do not need to be vaccinated. According to MayoClinic.com, about 90 percent of people who are vaccinated do not get chicken pox. Those who do get the illness usually get a more mild version of it. Another vaccine, Zostavax, is made for people who are over age 60 and have had chicken pox. Zostavax offers a person protection from shingles.