What You Need to Know about Shingles

If you had chickenpox in your childhood, you probably thought you’ve already seen the worst of it. After all, once someone has had chickenpox, a condition caused by the varicella-zoster virus, they will not get chickenpox again.

But now for the sobering fact: if you had chickenpox, you can also get shingles. This is because the chickenpox and shingles are caused by the same varicella virus. Although you may have recovered from chickenpox 60 years ago, the virus always remains dormant in the nervous system and can resurface later in life as shingles.

Can I get shingles?

About one-third of the U.S. population will develop shingles in their lifetime. Shingles can affect anyone who has had chickenpox at any time. However, it is more severe in people who are 60 years and older.

Key Facts

  • It is not known what reactivates the virus, so you may develop shingles at anytime.
  • The risk of complications rises after 60 years of age.
  • Immediate treatment can reduce the pain and the length of time the outbreak lasts.
  • Getting vaccinated prevents you from developing the shingles.

If you never had chickenpox, you cannot get shingles. That said, studies show that more than 99% of Americans aged 40 and older have had chickenpox, even if they don’t remember getting the disease.

How do I know if I have the shingles and what should I do?

“Shingles can cause itchy, and often painful rashes,” says Dr. Catrina Jean, a family medicine doctor at NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Westchester. The rash usually presents on one side of the body with an eruption of little blisters called vesicles, which can cause fever and inflammation.

Symptoms include:

  • Rash consisting of blisters
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Nausea

“A shingles episode typically lasts about ten days. However, some people who have shingles develop a condition called postherpetic neuralgia — a persistent pain in the area of the rash even after it has cleared up — which can last for months and, in rare cases, years,” Dr. Jean says.

Shingles can only be spread to someone who never had chickenpox – and it actually causes chickenpox, not shingles. However, the only way it is spread is through direct contact with the fluid from the blistery rashes.

At NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Westchester, our doctors include primary care, OB/GYN, cardiology, orthopedics and more, and offer same-day, early, late and weekend appointments. To find a physician close to home, search here or or call 914-787-2200.