Are shingles and chickenpox the same thing? Symptoms, causes and how to test

January 31, 2024

Chickenpox and shingles are caused by the same virus and can strike at any age. While they are related, chickenpox causes an itchy rash that can spread all over the body and shingles causes a painful cluster of fluid-filled blisters. If you had chickenpox, the varicella zoster virus (VZV) stays quietly in your body and can reappear years later as shingles.

 

What is the connection between chickenpox and shingles?

If you had chickenpox in childhood, the virus stays inactive in your body long after recovery from the initial illness. VZV can reactivate years later as shingles. Because early prevention with chickenpox vaccination in childhood is protective against the initial VZV infection, it also reduces the downstream risk of shingles later in life.

 

What are the symptoms of shingles?

About 1 out of every 3 people in the United States will get shingles in their lifetime according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The most common symptoms of shingles is a painful rash that appears on one side of the face or body. The rash usually appears 1-5 days after initial symptoms begin and turns into fluid-filled blisters that crust over in 7-10 days. Other symptoms can include:

  • Burning, skin sensitivity, tingling pain or numbness often occur before the rash appears
  • Feeling generally ill or fatigued
  • Headache
  • Fever and chills

 

The characteristic painful rash associated with shingles usually clears up within 2-4 weeks. But some people develop a complication involving persistent nerve pain called postherpetic neuralgia that can last for months or years. Prompt treatment of shingles can reduce the risk of such complications.

 

How can you test for immunity to chickenpox?

The Labcorp OnDemand Chickenpox Immunity Test detects antibodies to VZV. Knowing your immunity status empowers you to make informed health decisions. If you are not immune, you can discuss getting the chickenpox vaccine with your healthcare provider to protect yourself and those around you from infection. The vaccine provides protection against chickenpox and can also lower your chances of developing shingles later in life.

 

If you are immune to VZV, the results cannot determine whether you became immune through prior infection or through vaccination against chickenpox. So, the results do not tell you anything about your future risk of shingles. That’s why vaccination against shingles is recommend for all adults aged 50 and up.

 

Keep your health on track

Remember that if you’ve been infected with chickenpox in the past, the virus remains in your body and could reactivate as shingles later in life. If you are 50 or older, vaccination against shingles is recommended to reduce the risk of getting shingles, even for those who have had chickenpox vaccination or shingles outbreaks in the past. If you are worried that skin pain or an unusual rash could be shingles, consult your healthcare provider right away to see if an antiviral medication is right for you.

 

Don’t take chances when it comes to your wellbeing. Knowing your immunity status empowers you and your healthcare provider to make the best medical decisions to support your health.