Can You Get Shingles If You Have Had Chickenpox?

Reviewed on 6/30/2021

shingles and chickenpox
Both shingles and chickenpox are caused by the same virus, so you can get shingles if you have had chickenpox

Both shingles and chickenpox are caused by the same virus, varicella zoster.

If you have had chickenpox, the virus can lay dormant in your body’s nerve cells and come back later as shingles. So yes, it’s possible to get shingles if you have had chickenpox. 

This is especially true for people over the age of 50 as well as the immunocompromised. It’s therefore recommended that they get the shingles vaccine if possible. Of course, no vaccine is 100% effective, but it can considerably reduce someone’s risk of developing shingles.

What are risk factors for shingles?

The risk of the varicella zoster being reactivated in the form of shingles increases with the following factors:

What are signs and symptoms of shingles?

Signs and symptoms of shingles typically occur over one side of the face or body and may include:

What is the treatment for shingles?

Treatment is most effective when begun within 72 hours of the appearance of a rash. 

Shingles can cause severe pain that may not go away with over-the-counter (OTC) medication. Antiviral drugs (Acyclovir, Valacyclovir, etc.) can speed up recovery and reduce the risk of complications. Pain can also be treated with:

  • Cool compresses
  • Medicated lotions to reduce pain and itching
  • Numbing creams
  • Prescription painkillers, such as codeine, for intense pain
  • Antiseizure medications
  • Antidepressants

What are the complications of shingles?

Shingles can have complications that last long after the rash is gone and may occur if the infection has not been treated appropriately. Complications include:

Can shingles be prevented?

The FDA has approved the Shingrix vaccine to prevent shingles. Shingrix is a newer vaccine recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that is 90% effective in preventing shingles. The vaccine is given in 2 doses 6 months apart.

As a recombinant vaccine, it is created by altering and purifying DNA that codes for a shingles virus antigen. This antigen produces an immune response to fight the virus.

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Who should get the Shingrix vaccine?

The CDC recommends the following people to get the Shingrix vaccine:

  • Healthy individuals aged 50 years or older (although there is no minimum age)
  • People who are unsure whether they have had chickenpox in the past
  • People with a history of shingles

Who should not get the Shingrix vaccine?

The Shingrix vaccine should be avoided in the following cases:

  • History of allergic reaction to the first dose of the shingles vaccine
  • History of allergy to any of the ingredients in the vaccine
  • Current, ongoing shingles infection
  • Other current, ongoing infections causing fever
  • Currently pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Negative test result for the varicella zoster virus (in this case, the chickenpox vaccine is given instead)

What are the side effects of the Shingrix vaccine?

Like most vaccines, it is normal to experience minor side effects from the Shingrix vaccine. They may last 2-3 days after dosage. Taking an OTC pain medication can help relieve side effect symptoms.

Common side effects include:

Severe allergic reaction to the vaccine (anaphylaxis) is extremely rare but can be fatal and requires emergency medical attention. Symptoms include:

  • Swelling of the face, lips, throat, and eyes
  • Rashes
  • Warmth or redness of the skin
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Noisy breathing
  • Giddiness
  • Rapid heart rate and pulse rate
  • Irregular heartbeat

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References
Medscape. Zoster Vaccine Recombinant (Rx). https://reference.medscape.com/drug/shingrix-zoster-vaccine-recombinant-1000163

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingles Vaccination. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/shingles/public/shingrix/index.html

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Vaccines by Disease. https://www.vaccines.gov/diseases/shingles

WebMD. Understanding Shingles -- the Basics. https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/guide/understanding-shingles-basics

WebMD. Shingles. https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/shingles/shingles-skin#1

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingles (Herpes Zoster). https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/index.html

Janniger CK. Herpes Zoster. Medscape, https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1132465-overview

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