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Health Team

Chicken pox can return in adulthood

Posted February 18, 2011

The rash caused by shingles can be long-lasting and painful.
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— Childhood chicken pox can return later in life as a painful rash called shingles. In those over 60, a vaccine prevents the rash, but it is not recommended for those who are younger.

Eleven years ago, then-34-year-old Denise Vaughn began to feel a rash emerging on her torso. 

"They turned into sores, like the chicken pox do," Vaughn said.

And they were painful. "It's from the inside, burning and radiating out," she said.

The chicken pox virus that had gone dormant during Vaughn's childhood had returned as shingles.

Adults 60 years and older are at highest risk for shingles, and the vaccine can cut their risk in half.

Younger people like Vaughn can get shingles because of a weakened immune system.

"Whether it be significant amounts of stress, chemotherapy, diabetes, certain disease conditions can significantly increase your risk," said Dr. Michele Casey, a primary care physician at Falls Pointe Medical Group in Raleigh.

Vaughn remembered she was just getting over the flu before the rash appeared.

Treatment is aimed at relieving the pain with lotions and medications. Anti-viral drugs are used to shorten the duration of lesions and decrease the risk of post-herpetic neuralgia – a condition Casey explained as "pain that lasts well beyond the disappearance of the rash."

Vaughn was out of work for about 10 days when she had shingles, and her skin didn't clear up for another 10 days.

Chicken pox can return in adulthood Chicken pox can return in adulthood

Even though she's had shingles, it could come back, and she's still not old enough for the vaccine.

"It's not that people under 60 can't get the vaccine. It just hasn't been studied, and so there's some risk," Casey said.

Shingles is passed by direct skin contact or through the air until the blisters crust over.

Someone with shingles can only cause chicken pox in people who have not yet had the illness, and there is also a vaccine for chicken pox.

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  • watchmewin Feb 25, 2011

    I have you all beat. I had chiken pox when I was very young and it returned as shingles when I was just 16. I stil have scars on my arms from the blisters.

  • mmjo65 Feb 24, 2011

    I too had shingles twice in my 30's; once on the left side of my neck and shoulder and then under my right arm and on my rib cage. It is very painful and to this day still have residual neurapathy and pain associated on my left side. I am 45 and too young for this vaccine as well.

  • banker27520 Feb 21, 2011

    I too had the shingles in my 20s. Was told at the time that it was unusual, yet I've had a lot of friends get it in their 20s and 30s... so don't understand why they didn't test the vaccine for folks younger than 60.. Fortunately haven't had them since but I know the virus still lurks. Would that vaccine irradicate the virus from your system?

  • packfan96 Feb 21, 2011

    My shingles have come back 9 times. I am only 38. They are so painful and the doctor says I am too young for the vaccine. The time before this current time they were on BOTH sides of my body.

  • dsalter Feb 21, 2011

    I had chickenpox when I was a kid and took the shot last year for shingles. I'm over 60 but my oldest son got shingles in his early 30's. I don't know how available the vaccine is in the triangle but in southeastern North Carolina they have to order it and the demand is strong. The shot is not painful but appears to be in short supply. I think it took about 4 months for the pharmacy I was dealing with to get it in.

  • 3stoogesfan Feb 21, 2011

    My chickenpox returned as 'chickenpox of the mouth' last month. There were a cluster of blisters at the back roof of my mouth. It was gone the day after I started taking Valtrex.

  • Malcontent Feb 21, 2011

    "Childhood chicken pox can return later in life as a painful rash called shingles." NAW! REALLY?!?! Sorry I'm being sarcastic, but I had the shingles when I was 24. It HURT!

  • DangYankee Feb 21, 2011

    I came down with shingles in January, without the rash (zoster sine herpete) - I am too young to get the zoster vaccine. The rash shown in the article looks a little strange to be shingles, since it occurs on only one side. Mine was on my scalp, and the headache and radiating pain it produced for a few weeks was unlike any other pain I've experienced (childbirth, surgeries). Fortunately heavy dose of anti-viral meds shortened its duration.

  • stop_and_think Feb 18, 2011

    There's a vaccine for chicken pox and then there's a vaccine for shingles. They're DIFFERENT.

  • fourfivesix Feb 18, 2011

    i never had chicken pox as a kid & got the vaccine shortly after it came out. i think i was about 13 years old; no where near 60...