It is common knowledge that chickenpox is contagious, but are shingles contagious? The question is not as simple to answer as one might think. A person cannot get shingles from someone who has shingles, so people may think shingles are not contagious. However, that’s not the whole truth.

A person who has shingles can pass chickenpox to someone who has not had chickenpox. This often occurs when someone with shingles has exposed blisters and comes in contact with a child who has not had chickenpox and was not immunized for chickenpox. The shingles can cause chickenpox in others until all the blisters are crusted over.

How can shingles cause chickenpox in someone else? Chickenpox and shingles are caused by the same virus. The name of the virus is varicella-zoster. Shingles has the medical name of herpes zoster, but it is not related to the strain of herpes that causes genital herpes.

When someone recovers from chickenpox, the virus doesn’t go away. The person’s immune system suppresses the virus, but the virus remains in the body. If the virus becomes active again, the person gets shingles.

The virus can become active again if the person’s immune system becomes impaired or weakened or in times of illness or stress. In most cases, the reason the virus became active again is unknown. Shingles is most common in people over sixty years old.

The only way to get shingles is the awakening of the suppressed varicella-zoster virus that has been present since the person had chickenpox. If a person with shingles gives someone the chickenpox, that person is then at potential risk of having shingles later just like everyone else who has had chickenpox. They are not at an increased risk for shingles.

If an expecting mother contracts chickenpox five to twenty-one days prior to delivery, the newborn may be born with chickenpox. This situation is especially dangerous if the chickenpox is contracted soon before delivery since the mother’s anti-bodies would not have enough time to generate and cross the placenta to boost the newborn’s immune response.

Chickenpox in a newborn can be fatal. This type of early exposure to chickenpox can cause the child to develop pediatric shingles before the age of five because the child’s immune system is not mature enough to fully suppress the varicella-zoster virus.

Shingles is a common ailment with about twenty-five percent of adults getting the condition some time during their lifetime. There are mixed opinions among experts about whether the chickenpox vaccine will make shingles less common.

Children who receive the chickenpox vaccine are not likely to get chickenpox and therefore may not have the varicella-zoster virus that causes shingles when they are of age when shingles is common. Some experts think that having children immunized against chickenpox reduces adults exposure to chickenpox.

This exposure may have helped the adults by boosting the immune system response to the varicella-zoster virus and reduced their chance of getting shingles. Therefore, some adults who were not themselves immunized for chickenpox and had no later exposures to children with chickenpox may be at an increased risk of having shingles.