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Shingles and Chickenpox

The varicella zoster virus is linked to both chickenpox and shingles. While chickenpox is the condition that occurs first (typically in children), shingles is a disease that occurs after an attack of chickenpox (usually in adults). Shingles occurs when the virus that typically lies dormant in the nerve tissue reappears.

What Is Chickenpox?

Chickenpox is an infectious disease caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), a virus that is part of the herpes virus family. Chickenpox results in a blister-like rash, itching, tiredness, and fever.
Before the introduction of the varicella vaccine in 1995, approximately 4 million cases of chickenpox were reported annually, including 4,000 to 9,000 hospitalizations and 100 deaths. Since the introduction of the chickenpox vaccine, the number of cases has dropped dramatically.

What Is Shingles?

Shingles is a disease caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After an attack of chickenpox, the virus typically lies dormant in the nerve tissue. As we get older, it is possible for the virus to reappear in the form of shingles (also known as herpes zoster).
Shingles is estimated to affect 2 in every 10 people in their lifetime. This year, more than 500,000 people will develop shingles. 
If you have had chickenpox, you are at risk for developing shingles. Shingles is most common in people over the age of 50. Shingles is also more common in people with weakened immune systems due to:
  • HIV infection
  • Chemotherapy or radiation treatment
  • Transplant operations
  • Stress.
The first sign of shingles is often burning or tingling pain, or sometimes numbness, in or under the skin. You may also feel ill with fever, chills, headache, or upset stomach. After several days, a shingles rash of small fluid-filled blisters, reminiscent of chickenpox, appears on reddened skin. Shingles pain can be intense and is often described as "unrelenting."
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