Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus, and it spreads very easily through the air, infecting healthy people who have been in contact with the infected individuals. Chickenpox can also spread through direct contact with the blisters so you should be wary when taking care of sick individuals.
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is also quite a common illness that strikes over a million Americans every year, especially those of over 60 years of age. Shingles are also caused by the varicella-zoster virus, same as chickenpox. The difference between these two diseases is that a person who had chickenpox as a child has a chance to get shingles as an adult, as the varicella-zoster virus becomes dormant in one’s body, and reactivates at a point in a person’s life when their immune system becomes weak, due to illness or age.
Is It Possible to Get Shingles If You’ve Never Had Chickenpox?
A million-dollar question, can a person get shingles if they have never suffered from chickenpox. The answer is, as with all medical questions, not easy to give. Generally speaking, you cannot get shingles from a person who is infected with chickenpox, even though you’ve never had chickenpox in your life. However, you can get chickenpox, which will then leave a varicella zoster virus in your body which can later reactivate and give you shingles as well.
So, technically, the answer is no, however, that does not mean that you shouldn’t protect yourself from both diseases. Both chickenpox and shingles can be prevented through vaccination. Children should get two doses of the vaccine, the first being administered at 12-15 months of age, and the second one at the age of 4-6. For children of 13 or older, two doses administered 4 to 8 weeks apart are recommended. This vaccine is completely safe and it prevents shingles in 50 percent of the patients and reduces the chances of post-herpetic neuralgia by 66 percent.
Chickenpox vaccines are recommended for all children and adults, and especially for college students, healthcare professionals, family members or household members of the infected person, inmates and the staff of correctional institutions, military personnel, women of childbearing age, teachers and daycare workers, and international travelers.
There is also a shingles vaccine which is usually recommended for people of over 60 years of age, as their immune systems are weaker due to old age, and they are more susceptible to the reactivation of the varicella zoster virus. The vaccine for shingles is called VZV (Zostavax), and it helps tremendously when it comes to the prevention of shingles.
How to Treat Shingles?
Shingles can be treated with medications such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, or famciclovir. As soon as the rash appears you should start with the treatment, as it will shorten the duration of the illness and the severity of it, and, eventually prevent post-herpetic neuralgia.
You can also take over-the-counter pain medicines such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen to reduce the pain caused by the rash. Also, some topical antibiotics can be used and applied directly to the skin to prevent the infection of the blisters.
For more severe cases, your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids along with your usual treatment with antiviral medicines. However, corticosteroids are not that commonly used, as some studies have shown that using corticosteroids along with antiviral medicines does not help any more than just antiviral medicines do.
If you develop the post-herpetic neuralgia, you can expect to feel pain for months or even years later. Post-herpetic neuralgia strikes 10-15 out of 100 people who have shingles and some of the possible treatments include antidepressant medicines like tricyclic antidepressants (such as amitriptyline), topical anesthetics that include benzocaine, usually available over-the-counter. You can also get lidocaine patches (for example Lidoderm) which are only available by prescription. Another treatment option includes anticonvulsant medicines (pregabalin or gabapentin), opioids (such as codeine), and other pain medicines, for example, gabapentin enacarbil (such as Horizant).
Topical creams that contain capsaicin can give you much-needed relief from the pain caused by the post-herpetic neuralgia. However, be wary when using these creams, as capsaicin can irritate or burn the skin of some individuals.