If it's easier, you can think of shingles (also called herpes zoster) as chickenpox's back-up plan. The varicella zoster virus causes both illnesses but you can only get shingles if you've had chickenpox before.
Chickenpox and Shingles explained
Chickenpox is the primary disease of the two. It is the disease you get first and (mostly) only once.
Shingles is a secondary disease of chickenpox. It is a result of the chickenpox virus reactivating in your system. You can only catch shingles once and only if you have already had the chickenpox.
If you have never had chickenpox, the first time that you come into contact with someone with either shingles or chickenpox, you will only catch chickenpox (not shingles).
The good news? You can only get each disease once.
How contagious is shingles?
Unlike chickenpox, you can t catch shingles from infected people who are coughing or sneezing around you.
Only the fluid inside the blisters of a shingles rash is contagious. A person must come into contact with this fluid by touching the blisters directly or by touching any infected dressings, bedding or clothes.
Symptoms of shingles
Shingles is a type of irritating skin rash that causes a breakout of small, red and painful blisters.
Shingles can affect any part of the body, including the face. Classically, a shingles rash forms in a banded pattern around the body, following the nerve lines.
The symptoms can last for a few days or a few weeks and can become very uncomfortable. Once the virus is killed and the rash subsides some permanent scarring can occur.
Another symptom that often follows shingles is a type of nerve pain where the rash surfaced. This condition is called postherpetic neuralgia. About one in five people will get postherpetic neuralgia after shingles, but the pain usually goes away within a few months.
Will shingles harm my unborn baby?
Shingles does not harm unborn babies. Because the varicella zoster virus has to already be in your system for you to catch shingles, there is no added risk of that virus being passed onto your foetus.
However, if you haven t ever had chickenpox and you come into contact with someone who has either shingles or chickenpox, you should contact your doctor or midwife immediately to assess whether or not you have contracted chickenpox. Chickenpox can cause serious complications with unborn babies.
Anti-viral medications, such as acyclovir or Zovirax, famciclovir or Famvir, and valacyclovir or Valtrex, can help to reduce irritation of a shingles rash as well as lessen your chances of developing postherpetic neuralgia.
It's important to remember that these medications are most effective if taken immediately after the rash shows up. After 24 hours they are hardly effective at all.If you think you have caught shingles and are experiencing tender or itchy skin, it's best to get medical attention as soon as possible.
Last Published* November, 2021
*Please note that the published date may not be the same as the date that the content was created and that information above may have changed since.