5 Things You Should Know About Chicken Pox and Shingles

Barbara Walters has chicken pox. How likely it is for adults to get infected?

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Barbara Walters’ co-hosts on The View informed viewers that Walters has been hospitalized with the chicken pox. She’s 83, and the infection, which is more common among young children, is rare among older adults. According to her co-host Whoopi Goldberg, Walters has never had chicken pox before.

The news raised questions about how likely adults are to get chicken pox and how chicken pox is related to a condition that’s more common among adults, shingles. So here are some quick facts about the infections.

(MORE: Study: Kids’ Chicken-Pox Vaccine Helps Protect Babies Too)

If you never had chicken pox as a child, can you still get the infection as an adult?
Yes. Although most cases of chicken pox occur before age 10, adults who have never contracted the infection are still at risk.

Can chicken pox be more severe in adults?
Most people get chicken pox when they are young, but the symptoms can be more severe among people who catch the infection in an older age. They include loss of appetite, fever, headache, tiredness and rashes, all of which can be more taxing on the health of elderly adults.

What is shingles, and how is it different from chicken pox?
Shingles, also known as zoster or herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash caused by the same virus responsible for chicken pox: the varicella zoster virus. Even if you had chicken pox in the past, you can still contract shingles. That’s because the chicken-pox virus remains in the body, lying dormant in the roots of nerves, and can reactivate many years later. It’s not clear why the virus reawakens — in some people it never does — but researchers believe that the virus is triggered as the immune system weakens with age or in conditions of stress.

About 1 out of 3 people in the U.S. is affected by shingles at some point in their lives, with the majority of cases occurring in men and women ages 60 and older.

Shingles is less contagious than chicken pox and cannot be passed from person to person. However, the varicella zoster virus can be spread from a person with shingles to someone who has never had chicken pox. The unfortunate recipient might develop chicken pox, but not shingles.

How long is a person contagious with the chicken pox or shingles?
The infection can take anywhere from 10 to 21 days to develop after exposure to someone with chicken pox or shingles. People with chicken pox are contagious a couple days before their rash appears and remain so until all of their blisters have scabbed. A person with shingles, on the other hand, can only spread their infection while their skin rash is still blistering. They’re not contagious before the blisters occur, and are no longer contagious once the rash starts to scab.

What’s the best way to prevent chicken pox and shingles?
To avoid chicken pox, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends two doses of the chicken-pox vaccine — which is 98% effective — for kids, adolescents and adults who have not had chicken pox. Adults who have not had the disease and may be in close contact with young children who are likely to be infected should consider getting vaccinated. Children should receive the first dose when they are between 12 months old and 15 months old, and a second dose when they are 4 years old to 6 years old. The U.S. started chicken-pox immunizations in 1995, so Walters would not have been vaccinated as a child.

There is also a shingles vaccine. Zostavax is recommended for people ages 60 and older since they are most vulnerable to the infection. Currently, the CDC doesn’t have a recommendation for the vaccine in people ages 50 to 59, but the Food and Drug Administration did approve the shot for this age group as well. According to the CDC, shingles-vaccination rates among adults are low, but there was a 16% increase in people ages 60 and older who were immunized in 2011. While the vaccine cannot protect you completely from a bout with shingles, it can make the rashes less painful and help clear them up more quickly.

Read more about chicken pox and shingles from the CDC.

25 comments
sife4812
sife4812

got my shingels shot. do i ever need another?


sife4812
sife4812

just got mine....do i ever need another shot? i am 61.

dreameronmars
dreameronmars

I've never had chickenpox and have never been vaccinated for it, but I still got Shingles...is it possible for other people as well or am I THAT special?.My doctor's been a bit surprised when I went to have her look at the rash. I'm 19 years old so the 'the older you get, the higher the chances.." things doesn't work in my case... 

AmeeBee97
AmeeBee97

I've never had the chicken pops but i got the shingles when i was 7, will they come back?

robertavila
robertavila

Shingles, autism, sids, retardation... all these things have positive correlation with vaccines.

hollydowney2
hollydowney2

Im 16 have a good immune system and was exposed to the virus when I was young when friends and family caught it as well as two year ago when my best friend had it however I never showed any symptoms myself is there the chance I am already immune? And is it likely i'll catch it in adulthood? 

KaliCyanua
KaliCyanua

o, there is no rule say that you will get shingles if I had chicken pox before. The shingles is rather normal, it may appear when the weather changes, at every age group. I think it can be prevented before it happens. You can learn more about chickenpox signs and symptoms, causes, treatment chicken chickenpox to protect your kid.

Kate903
Kate903

Would I get shingles if I had chicken pox before? I've actually had it twice when I was a kid, but never got vaccinated for it.

Pbuchannon
Pbuchannon

There is an increase of Shingles BECAUSE parents are not getting re-immunized because they are not getting exposed (and re-immnized) when their kids get chicken pox.   Kids are getting vaccinated against chicken pox.    'back in the day' ...when a kid got chicken pox and the parents were exposed again then the parent was getting re-immunized.      I'll bet the majority of those Shingle cases are in families where the kids were not allowed to get chicken pox.

BelindaPua
BelindaPua

@robertavila my daughter age 10 got shingles from having gotten the chicken pox vaccine 5 months ago. She NEVER had chicken pox and they NEVER told me the vaccine could cause shingles until of course she got it!!!

BelindaPua
BelindaPua

@Pbuchannon WRONG!!!! My daughter is 10 got shingles from the vaccine for chicken pox! She never had chicken pox and is still a child. The damn vaccine is causing shingles!!!

easter81
easter81

@Pbuchannon While you may be right about the increase in older generations getting Shingles because of them having their children vaccinated for chicken pox, this is not always true. Both of my brother's and I all had chicken pox as did both of my parents plus all of their 7 grandchildren. Needless to say that my mother has been exposed and reexposed multiple times, and still gotten shingles twice. She is 58 and her most recent episode happened after a surgery where a nerve in her neck was damaged. Chicken pox/shingles is a herpes virus and once it's in your body it is always in your body, therefore can "resurface" at anytime.

maniandram01
maniandram01

@BelindaPua how do you know it was the vaccine that caused the chicken pox? It could be a coincidence. Google "correlation does not imply causation".

katewalker89
katewalker89

@BelindaPua You are wrong. Flat out. Likely what happened is that your daughter was exposed to the virus in childhood but did not show typical symptoms. Therefore, when she got the shot, it reactivated the herpes zoster virus for whatever reason. That is a very rare reaction. The reason they vaccinate infants is #1 to get it into them before they have a severe case of chicken pox and #2 to prevent a rare reaction such as your daughter had from re-exposure.

Yes, some people with weakened systems (i.e. elderly, otherwise ill, etc.) could contract shingles from touching the vaccination site of a child who has been recently vaccinated, or from being vaccinated themself, it is very rare.

Please do not spread lies and fear monger. The chicken pox vaccine is saving children from suffering. People with compromised immune systems can become severely ill from chicken pox. Even if the average child is fine with chicken pox, there are some who are not, so why take that risk. The vaccine does not CURE chicken pox, but lessens the severity of symptoms. So by vaccinating all children, we are saving the ones who need that protection.