What is chickenpox, and what is shingles?

Dr. Nicholas Davis discusses chickenpox and shingles. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

What is chickenpox, and what is shingles?

Chickenpox and shingles are actually caused by the same virus, it's caused by the varicella zoster virus. Chickenpox is the first time you're exposed to the virus as opposed to zoster which is the second time or when it gets reactivated. What happens is that when you get chickenpox the first time, you get a rash all over your body and it can cause fevers and typically its kids that get it. But anybody can get it who hasn't been exposed. Years later kids, adolescents, older adults they can get it reactivated and when shingles reactivates then its painful and so that is the second or third time that people get it. The older you are the more high likelihood it is to reoccur or cause more pain.


Chickenpox is an infection that is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It’s most common for children younger than 15 to catch the virus, but anyone can catch chickenpox, which spreads easily from person to person, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The most common symptom of chickenpox is an itchy rash all over the body. The rash turns into small blisters, then into scabs. Other symptoms can include fever, headache, tiredness and loss of appetite, according to the NIH.

Chickenpox usually lasts between five and 10 days, according to the NIH. You can help calm the itching with calamine lotion and oatmeal baths.

Shingles is a painful rash that usually develops on one side of the body or face. It is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Though shingles can develop at any age, it is most common in adults older than 60. One in every three people older than 60 gets shingles, according to the CDC.

The severe pain caused by shingles can continue for months or even years in the area where the rash started. The pain can be so bad it can become debilitating, according to the CDC. There is no treatment or cure for the pain.

Talk to your doctor for more information about chickenpox and shingles.

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