Chickenpox is caused by the varicella zoster virus, which children normally recover from in around two weeks. However, in some children, the virus persists and can cause the chickenpox – or shingles as it’s also known. Shingles usually occurs in people over 50, although it can affect those of any age. People who’ve had chickenpox are ten times more likely to develop shingles later in life, said the NHS.
A person is more likely to get shingles if they’re older, have chronic illnesses such as diabetes or heart disease, or already have a weakened immune system. The chickenpox vaccine has been available in the UK since 1995, but there is currently no vaccine for shingles.
For people at risk of developing shingles, the vaccine is a “reasonable” preventative option. “We recommend the chickenpox vaccine to protect against shingles, but if you don’t have immunity, vaccination could prevent shingles,” said Dr Paul Cosford, medical director for PHE. “If you develop chickenpox after receiving the chickenpox vaccine, it is unlikely that the vaccine could protect you against shingles. “You are more at risk of complications from shingles if you develop it without the protection offered by the vaccine.” NHS Choices also warned people that shingles can “be uncomfortable”, and may make a person feel “excruciatingly hot and cold”.
What’s in the chickenpox vaccine?
The chickenpox vaccine contains a live virus called Varicella zoster virus, which causes chickenpox, but it is not the same as the virus that causes shingles.
Chickenpox typically leads to a rash that begins on one side of the body, including the back and neck, and spreads to the other side.
The virus is usually spread through direct contact with the infected person or from exposure to fluid or tissue from the infected person. It can also spread from an infected person to others when they cough or sneeze.
The chickenpox vaccine was introduced in the United States in 1995, in the hopes of preventing the spread of shingles.
What are the symptoms of chickenpox?
Chickenpox can be severe and last for several weeks. It’s important to see a doctor if the rash doesn’t start to fade or your symptoms change.
The rash often starts on the face before spreading to the rest of the body. The rash usually starts on one side of the face, then spreads to the other side, then to the back and the rest of the body.
The rash often first appears as small flat spots on the body, often on the trunk. The spots eventually spread to cover most of the body.
Symptoms of shingles
Shingles is a skin rash that comes on after the chickenpox virus resurfaces. Shingles is a skin rash that comes on after the chickenpox virus resurfaces.
It is a complication of chickenpox that usually strikes in people over the age of 50. Shingles can lead to pain, numbness, tingling, or shooting pain in the affected area.
The rash typically presents as a group of bright red or blistered spots. It typically begins on one side of the body and moves to the other. Shingles can affect any part of the body, but it is more common on the back, neck, and shoulders.
The rash typically lasts for 1 to 2 weeks, and the illness usually clears up without the need for treatment.
Some people experience severe nerve pain and symptoms that affect vision. Shingles also carries the risk of post-herpetic neuralgia, or pain that lasts for months after the rash clears up.
There is no specific treatment for shingles. However, over-the-counter pain relievers and over-the-counter medication to treat shingles pain are available. In some cases, pain relievers and steroid injections may be prescribed.
When shingles strikes in older adults, doctors may recommend these medicines:
- lidocaine spray
- topical anesthetic
- medication to reduce fever
- medication to ease the itchiness
Antiviral drugs are not commonly used to treat shingles, but they can be helpful in reducing symptoms in some people. If people have had shingles before and developed complications, the benefits of antiviral drugs may outweigh the risks.
How is chickenpox treated?
People with chickenpox usually recover without complications, although they may have fevers, headache, muscle aches, and fatigue.
The chickenpox vaccine is most effective when given before a person is exposed to the virus.
People who are more than 1 year old can receive the chickenpox vaccine, and there is some evidence to suggest that the vaccine may protect a person from shingles.
People who have a condition that puts them at risk for chickenpox, such as people with diabetes, are usually not offered the vaccine.
The vaccine is not currently recommended for people who are pregnant.
Rare reasons people have Chickenpox
Here are the rare reasons people have had the rash.
Chickenpox symptoms can last between one to three weeks, or less for some people. They may not appear until 10 days after the first episode of rash, and up to two weeks after the final episode of rash. Chickenpox can sometimes cause a skin rash similar to scabies, but scabies is caused by a mite, not a virus.
Headaches, tiredness and loss of appetite are other signs of chickenpox. In rare cases, chickenpox can cause complications. These can include scarring of the gut, and persistent itchy blisters on the skin.
Why is chickenpox on the rise?
Chickenpox is not a virus, but an infection caused by the varicella zoster virus. It’s so common, especially among children, that around one in five people in the UK is infected with it by the time they are 15 years old, according to the NHS. The chickenpox vaccine was introduced in the UK in 1995. Between 2005 and 2009, it became less widely available, and outbreaks have been more common since then. The vaccine is also available in the US and Australia.
Are there any risks associated with the chickenpox vaccine?
Although this vaccine may be safe, many people have experienced mild side effects like redness and itching on the skin. The side effects are not related to the vaccine itself, but instead to a common side effect of the vaccine called IgE antibody suppression. Some people may experience fatigue, dizziness or feeling sick.
If you experience any of these side effects, talk to your doctor and ask what you can do to reduce your risk. If you become very sick, you can also seek medical attention.