How are Chickenpox and Shingles Related?

Shingles is related to chickenpox because it is caused by the same type of virus known as the varicella-zoster virus. However, a person usually gets chickenpox first. Shingles is then caused by a reactivation from the varicella zoster virus, which remains dormant in the dorsal root ganglia along the spine even after symptoms of chickenpox subside, and may be reactivated in older adults or people with weakened immune systems, spreading from the ganglia along the nerves to the skin (Duff, 2020). Antiviral medications and soothing topical ointment for shingles are often used to relieve shingles symptoms such as pain and itching.

What is the difference between chickenpox and shingles?

Chickenpox is a disease that almost everyone will have at some point in their lives. It is most contagious in the first two to five days and, if not treated early on, it can lead to severe complications requiring hospitalization for a child or adult.

The virus does not always stay active after you’ve had chickenpox as a child; it’s only when your immunity starts weakening later in life that the virus that has remained dormant in the body reactivates and develops into shingles.

Shingles starts with pain in the skin on your back, chest, or stomach before it eventually evolves into blisters. The virus typically stays active for about four to six weeks and can be very painful during this time.

The main difference between chickenpox and shingles is that they typically affect different parts of your body; chickenpox in childhood affects mainly your head and torso, while adult shingles usually only affect a person’s back or chest.

While common symptoms for chickenpox include fever, headache, and fatigue, common symptoms for shingles include pain in the skin on your back or chest that can be severe enough to restrict a person’s movement. This is also usually accompanied by itching of the affected area before blisters appear.

Shingles can weaken a person’s immunity making them more susceptible to other illnesses such as pneumonia or bronchitis. The most common complication of shingles is post-herpetic neuralgia, which causes mild to extreme pain that lasts for months or even years after the blisters from shingles heal. On the other hand, chickenpox does not typically have any severe complications in children, but adults with weakened immune systems may be at risk of developing pneumonitis from chickenpox which may be very debilitating.

Can one get both chickenpox and shingles at the same time?

No, it is not possible to get both chickenpox and shingles at the same time.

Although the same virus causes both diseases, one typically first develops chickenpox before developing shingles later in life when the dormant virus reactivates when a person is immunocompromised or under stress. Risk factors for shingles also include a person’s age or even pregnancy.

If you’ve had chickenpox as a child, then it may provide you some protection against re-infection. However, this does not mean that the virus is completely eliminated from the body.

How does one treat chickenpox and shingles?

Treatment includes prescription antiviral medicines such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir, topical ointments that contain acyclovir, lidocaine, and/or capsaicin, or lotions containing calamine that can be used on open lesions to reduce pain and itchiness.


Suppose you suspect that you have either chickenpox or shingles. In that case, it is essential to consult your doctor as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment, as these conditions may cause terrible complications. Soothing topical ointments or antiviral medications may be prescribed depending on the symptoms you are experiencing.

Duff, B. L. (2020, March 4). Why Does the Varicella Zoster Virus Reactivate as Shingles? Drug Topics.

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