The Cause, Symptoms and Treatments For Chickenpox and Shingles
Chickenpox and Shingles
Introduction to Chickenpox
• Chicken pox is usually a mild disease that most children will
encounter at some point in their lives
• It causes a red rash that turn into blisters filled with fluid, they then
dry over and become scabs before they fall off.
• The amount of spots each child has all over the body can vary but
usually appears on chest, belly, arms and legs.
• Chickenpox (known medically as varicella) is caused by a virus
called the varicella-zoster virus. It's spread quickly and easily from
someone who is infected.
• Chickenpox is most common in children under the age of 10. In fact,
chickenpox is so common in childhood that over 90% of adults are
immune to the condition because they've had it before.
What to do
• To prevent spreading the infection, keep children off nursery or
school until all their spots have crusted over.
• Chickenpox is infectious from one to two days before the rash starts,
until all the blisters have crusted over (usually five to six days after
the start of the rash).
• If your child has chickenpox, try to keep them away from public
areas to avoid contact with people who may not have had it,
especially people who are at risk of serious problems, such as
newborn babies, pregnant women and anyone with a weakened
immune system (for example, people having cancer treatment or
taking steroid tablets).
• Chickenpox in children is considered a mild illness, but your child
will probably feel pretty miserable and irritable while they have it.
• Your child may have a fever for the first few days of the illness. The
spots can be incredibly itchy.
• There is no specific treatment for chickenpox, but there are
pharmacy remedies that can alleviate symptoms. These include
paracetamol to relieve fever, and calamine lotion and cooling gels to
• In most children, the blisters crust up and fall off naturally within one
to two weeks.
Who's at special risk?
Some children and adults are at special risk of serious problems if they
catch chickenpox. They include:
• pregnant women
• new-born babies
• people with a weakened immune system
These people should seek medical advice as soon as they are exposed
to the chickenpox virus or they develop chickenpox symptoms.
Chickenpox and Shingles
Initial infection with the
virus, usually during
chickenpox. The virus
then moves to a dorsal
root ganglion, where it
Later, usually in adulthood,
immune system depression or
stress can trigger a reactivation
of the virus, causing shingles
Introduction to Shingles
• Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is an infection of a nerve and
the skin around it. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which
also causes chickenpox.
• Shingles usually affects a specific area on one side of the body and
does not cross over the midline of the body (an imaginary line
running from between your eyes down past the belly button).
• The main symptom is a painful rash that develops into itchy blisters
that contain particles of the virus.
• An episode of shingles typically lasts around two to four weeks,
although around one in five people go on to develop nerve pain
called postherpetic neuralgia in the affected area of skin
• It is possible to have shingles more than once, but it's very rare to
get it more than twice.
What to do
• Shingles is not usually serious, but you should see your GP as soon
as possible if you recognise the symptoms. Early treatment may
help reduce the severity of your symptoms and the risk of
• You should also see your GP if you are pregnant or have a
weakened immune system (the body's natural defence system) and
you think you have been exposed to someone with chickenpox or
shingles and haven't had chickenpox before.
• Your GP will usually be able to diagnose shingles based on your
symptoms and the appearance of the rash.
What causes Shingles?
Most people have chickenpox in childhood, but after the illness has
gone, the virus remains dormant (inactive) in the nervous system. The
immune system keeps the virus in check, but later in life it can be
reactivated and cause shingles.
It is not known exactly why the shingles virus is reactivated at a later
stage in life, but most cases are thought to be caused by having
lowered immunity (protection against infections and diseases).
This may be the result of:
• being older
• being stressed
• taking medication that weakens your immune system
• a condition that affects your immune system, such as HIV or AIDS
What causes Shingles?
There is no cure for shingles, but treatment is available to relieve the
symptoms until the condition resolves. Most cases of shingles last
around two to four weeks.
Treatment for shingles can include:
• covering the rash with clothing or a non-adherent (non-stick)
dressing to reduce the risk of other people becoming infected with
chickenpox, as it is very difficult to pass the virus on to someone
else if the rash is covered
• painkilling medication, such as paracetamol, ibuprofen or codeine
• antiviral medication to stop the virus multiplying, although not
everyone will need this
Complications with Shingles
Shingles can sometimes lead to complications, such as postherpetic
neuralgia. This is where severe nerve pain lasts for several months or
more after the rash has gone.
Complications such as this are usually in elderly people who have had
the condition and those with a weakened immune system.
Types of pain experienced by people with postherpetic neuralgia
• constant or intermittent burning, aching, throbbing, stabbing, or
• allodynia – where you feel pain from something that should not be
painful, such as changes in temperature or the wind
• hyperalgesia – where you are very sensitive to pain
Can shingles be prevented?
It's not always possible to prevent shingles, but a vaccine called
Zostavax can reduce your chances of developing the condition.
If you still develop shingles after having this vaccine, the condition may
be milder and last for a shorter time than usual.
This vaccine is now routinely offered to older people on the NHS. It is
given as a single injection to anyone aged 70. There is also a catch-up
programme for those aged 79 and, from September 2014, 78 and 79-
year-olds. You will only need to have this vaccine once.
If you wish to have the shingles vaccine and you are not eligible for the
NHS vaccination programme, you will usually need to visit a private
clinic. Private vaccination is likely to cost £100-200.
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