Chickenpox Shingles

Chickenpox is common illness which most children become affected by at some point. The symptoms of the virus are mild and will result in a rash of itchy red spots which turn to blisters containing fluid. These blisters will then dry out, scab over and drop off leaving no permanent damage. Most people will only ever suffer from one bout of chickenpox. Shingles is a virus that is much more common in adults than children and resembles chickenpox in appearance; the two viruses are related and it is because of chickenpox that people can become infected with shingles.

Chickenpox-shingles relationship

The chickenpox-shingles connection comes from a virus known as the herpes varicella-zoster virus (VZV); this is the virus that causes both conditions.

Once a person has chickenpox their body will develop the antibodies to the infection which will provide immunity to the virus and make them unable to catch it again. As well as the antibodies being present, the VZV virus will also remain in the body and lay dormant in the body’s nerve tissue. In many cases the virus will remain dormant, however in some cases it can be reactivated in later life, leading to shingles.

The cause of the reactivation of the VZV virus is not fully known but is attributed to the immune system becoming weaker. The immune system is the body’s natural defence system, protecting against viruses and infections, there are a number of reason why the immunity can be lowered:

  • Old Age. As you become older, the immune system can become weaker and less able to fight infection. This is thought to be the reason why shingles is most common in the over 80’s.
  • HIV and AIDS. Anyone that sufferers from the HIV virus will also be affected by a low immune system. HIV and AID’s sufferers are around 25 times more likely than the rest of the UK population to get shingles.
  • Stress. Whether physical or emotional, stress can release chemicals in the body which can prevent the immune system from working properly.
  • Recent organ transplants. People than have recently had an organ transplant are usually required to take medication to supress the immune system. This is to so that the body is able to accept the new organ, as a result between 25% and 45% of people in this situation will develop shingles.

Chickenpox-shingles – treatment

There is currently no cure for either chicken pox or shingles although nor is there a widely used vaccination for the prevention of chickenpox. Shingles is a more serious condition than chickenpox to treat and can cause a sufferer severe pain and irritation, the virus will generally last 2-4 weeks and a sufferer must seek medical attention once the signs of shingles are apparent.

Treatment is usually given in the form of painkilling medication; this will differ depending on the severity of the pain. Painkillers will be either over-the-counter tablets or stronger prescription medication. GP’s may also prescribe dressings and capsaicin creams if other treatments aren’t suitable.




Back to Top