The chickenpox, shingles connection

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Shingles and chickenpox are not the same illness. But they are caused by the same virus.

Chickenpox is usually a milder illness that affects children. Shingles results from a re-activation of the virus long after the chickenpox illness has disappeared.

Chickenpox is very contagious and causes a blister-like rash, itching, fatigue, and fever. It typically lasts five to 10 days. It spreads through coughing or sneezing.

Shingles is a painful rash with blister-like sores that often occurs on one side of the body—usually on the torso or face. Symptoms can include fever, headache, chills, and upset stomach. It may lead to other serious complications involving the eye, including blindness. The most common complication of shingles is long-term nerve pain.

Unlike chickenpox, shingles is not contagious. It usually resolves in about a month, but can cause severe and long-lasting pain that is difficult to treat.

Both illnesses are caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Anyone who has had chickenpox may develop shingles. However, the reason for shingles is unclear, according to the Mayo Clinic. It may be due to lowered immunity to infections as people grow older. One of every three Americans will develop shingles in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The best way to prevent shingles and chickenpox is to get vaccinated, which is two separate vaccines. The CDC recommends healthy adults age 50 and older get the shingles vaccine.

The CDC recommends two doses of chickenpox vaccine for children, adolescents, and adults who have never had chickenpox and were never vaccinated. Children are routinely recommended to receive the first dose at age 12 through 15 months and a second dose at age 4 through 6.

Some people who get the chickenpox vaccine may still get the disease. However, it is usually milder with fewer blisters and little or no fever. Also, people who get the chickenpox vaccine may still get shingles, but are likely to experience a milder case than those who do not get vaccinated.