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How Is Shingles Different From Chickenpox?

By Apollo Pharmacy, Published on- 06 September 2023

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Shingles and chickenpox are both caused by the varicella-zoster virus, but they have distinct characteristics and present differently. Understanding these differences can help individuals take appropriate precautions and seek timely medical intervention when necessary. In this blog post, we will delve deeper into the distinctions between shingles and chickenpox, equipping you with a clear understanding of these related yet distinct conditions.

What is Varicella-Zoster Virus?

The varicella-zoster virus is responsible for causing chickenpox. It spreads from one person to another through direct contact with the fluid from chickenpox blisters or by inhaling respiratory droplets from an infected person. Chickenpox is highly contagious, and individuals who have not been vaccinated or previously infected are at risk of contracting the virus.

After the initial infection, the virus remains dormant in nerve tissue near the spinal cord and brain. Years later, it can reactivate and cause shingles, which is characterised by a painful rash that usually appears on one side of the body. The rash typically develops into clusters of blisters that crust over within 7-10 days.

Symptoms of Chickenpox and Shingles




Incubation period

Approximately 10 to 21 days, which is the time between exposure to the virus and the onset of symptoms.

The virus remains dormant in the nerve tissues after chickenpox, which can reactivated years later.

Early symptoms

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Itching
  • Fatigue
  • Malaise

Burning, tingling, or numbing sensation in one side of the body.

Characteristics of rash

  • The rash usually starts as red spots that quickly evolve into small, fluid-filled blisters.
  • Over time, these blisters form scabs and eventually heal.
  • The rash typically appears on the face, scalp, trunk, and extremities.
  • Shingles rash typically appears as a band or strip of red blisters that lay horizontally on top of the other.
  • It occurs along a specific nerve pathway.
  • Unlike chickenpox, it is localised to one side of the body.

Other symptoms

  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sore throat
  • Mild respiratory symptoms
  • Fever with or without chills
  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach

Complications and Risks

High-risk groups including infants, adolescents, adults, pregnant women, and individuals with weakened immune systems can experience severe infection if they get exposed to the varicella-zoster virus. Besides this, some complications associated with Shingles and Chickenpox include:



  • Pneumonia
  • Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
  • Bacterial infections
  • Postherpetic Neuralgia (PHN): Causes chronic pain and discomfort even after the rash clears.
  • Vision problems or even blindness
  • Bacterial superinfection

Diagnosis and Treatment

Chickenpox and Shingles are diagnosed with the help of various clinical examinations and laboratory tests. Furthermore, the treatment includes antiviral medications and symptomatic relief measures.





Clinical examination and observation of the rashes across the body.

Clinical examination and observation of rash on one side of the body.


In some cases, laboratory tests such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) may be performed to confirm the diagnosis of chickenpox.

Laboratory tests such as viral culture or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) can be performed to identify the presence of the varicella-zoster virus.


Symptomatic relief with antipyretics to reduce fever and antihistamines to relieve itching.

Antiviral medications are prescribed to speed up the healing process and alleviate pain.


In severe cases or high-risk individuals, antiviral medication may be prescribed to shorten the duration of the illness and reduce complications.

These medications typically work best when started within 72 hours of the rash appearing.





Vaccination for the disease

  • Varicella vaccine is safe and effective in preventing chickenpox.
  • Two doses of the vaccine are given to children at specific ages.
  • Shingrix is a new shingles vaccine that provides stronger and longer-lasting protection against shingles compared to previous vaccines.

Vaccination schedule

  • Children receive their first dose between 12-15 months and a second dose at 4-6 years of age.
  • Adolescents and adults who have not been vaccinated should receive two doses, 4-8 weeks apart.
  • It is recommended for individuals aged 50 years and older, even if they have previously received another shingles vaccine.
  • The Shingrix vaccine is administered as a series of two doses, with a recommended interval of two to six months between doses.

Quick Review


Itchy red spots, fever, fatigue

Painful rash, tingling, nerve discomfort


Generalised rash

Localised rash along nerve pathways


Secondary infections, pneumonia

Postherpetic neuralgia, skin infections


Clinical observation, lab tests

Clinical exam, medical history, lab tests


Symptomatic relief, antiviral meds

Antiviral drugs, pain management


Vaccination, exposure avoidance

Reducing risk factors, vaccination


In conclusion, shingles and chickenpox are two distinct viral infections caused by the same virus, the varicella-zoster virus. While they share similarities, there are important differences between the two conditions that individuals should be aware of. Understanding the differences between shingles and chickenpox is crucial for proper management, treatment, and prevention of these conditions. If you suspect you have either condition or need vaccination, it's important to seek medical advice. Stay informed and take steps to protect yourself and others from these viral infections.

Explore Immunity Boosters


Q. Can you get shingles if you've never had chickenpox?

No, shingles occurs in people who have previously had chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in their nerve cells and can reactivate as shingles later in life.

Q. How do shingles and chickenpox symptoms compare?

Chickenpox usually presents with a widespread itchy rash, fever, and fatigue. Shingles, on the other hand, are characterised by a painful rash that typically affects only one side of the body or face.

Q. Can you catch shingles from someone with chickenpox?

You cannot catch shingles directly from someone with chickenpox. However, if you have never had chickenpox and come into contact with someone who has active shingles blisters, you could potentially contract chickenpox.

Q. Can you get shingles more than once?

While it is uncommon, it is possible to get shingles more than once. However, getting vaccinated can help reduce the risk of recurrence and lessen the severity of symptoms.

Q. Is there a vaccine to prevent shingles?

Yes, there is a vaccine available to protect against shingles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults aged 50 years and older receive the shingles vaccine.


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