Conditions

Shingles Poses Chickenpox Risk to Unvaccinated or Undervaccinated Kids

Almost 1 in 3 people in the United States will get shingles during their lifetime, and the rate has only been going up with time – especially in young adults. Shingles is a viral infection caused by the same virus as chickenpox. Anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles later on. The condition is extremely painful and can cause severe complications depending on where the rash appears. For parents, the increase in shingles cases means a higher chance that their children could be exposed to the virus if they are not immune.

Is Shingles Contagious?

The answer is a bit complicated: Shingles itself is not contagious. Someone can't give shingles to someone else. But contact with a shingles rash can pass the virus to someone who is not immune, causing chickenpox. Once someone has had chickenpox, the virus can then return as shingles later in life. 

Shingles can affect people of any age. It is much more common in adults but can still occur in children, particularly if they have weakened immune systems.

So What Can Be Done?

Vaccinations are the only way to protect against shingles. Vaccinating against chickenpox means that not only will a child be immune to chickenpox, but the virus won’t be dormant in the body waiting to come out as shingles later. It’s like a two-in-one vaccine. Vaccines against shingles are also available to help reduce the risk for people who have had chickenpox. Children as young as 12 months can receive their first dose of chickenpox vaccine, while the shingles vaccine is so far only recommended for adults aged 50 and older.

In a recent article for The New York Times , journalist Sarah Szczypinski reported discussing the risks with her doctor and learning that her shingles rash could give her son chickenpox as well as an increased chance of contracting shingles later in life. Her son had only received the first part of the chickenpox vaccine. If her son had been old enough to receive both doses of the chickenpox vaccine, the story would be different. Contact with a rash can’t pass the virus to someone who has had chickenpox or the full vaccine. 

Over 95% of children between 13 and 18 had received 1 dose of the vaccine as of 2014, but only 81% had received the recommended second dose. This leaves them more vulnerable to catching chickenpox, which then puts them at risk of the virus reemerging as shingles. The chickenpox vaccine can still help even after you’ve been exposed if the child receives it within 3 to 5 days of the encounter.

The Take Home

With shingles cases on the rise in young adults, the chance of unvaccinated or undervaccinated children catching the virus is also increasing. Vaccination, for chickenpox in children and for shingles in parents, is the single most important way to limit a child’s chances of coming down with the debilitating disease in the future.

Sean Marsala is a health writer based out of Philadelphia, PA. Passionate about technology, you can usually find him reading, browsing the internet, and exploring virtual worlds.

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