Though most people who get chickenpox develop immunity to it, some people can get it twice. You can also get shingles, which happens when the virus that causes chickenpox reactivates.
Though uncommon, you can get chickenpox more than once. Most people who have had chickenpox develop immunity to it for the remainder of their lives. But some factors, like having a compromised immune system, can increase your risk of getting it again.
The virus that causes chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), can also reactivate later in life. This causes a related condition called shingles. Shingles also causes a rash and other symptoms.
Keep reading to learn more about getting sick twice from the virus that causes chickenpox.
You may be susceptible to getting the chickenpox virus twice if:
- You had your first case of chickenpox when you were less than 6 months old.
- Your first case of chickenpox was extremely mild.
- You have a weakened immune system.
Other times, a person who appears to be developing chickenpox for the second time is actually having their first case of chickenpox. Because some rashes can mimic chickenpox, it may be that that person never had chickenpox before but instead had another condition.
You may not get chickenpox twice, but VZV could make you sick twice. Once you’ve had chickenpox, the virus remains inactive in your nerve tissue.
The virus may then reactivate later in life and cause shingles.
Shingles is a painful rash of blisters. The rash develops on one side of the face or body and typically lasts about three weeks. The blisters usually scab over in a week or two.
Shingles typically occurs in older adults when the immune system naturally weakens with age. But it can also occur in younger people with weakened immune systems.
Chickenpox is highly contagious and transmits easily from person to person. Breathing in the respiratory particles of a person with chickenpox can expose you to it. Chickenpox can also spread through contact with the fluid in the rash blisters.
You can contract chickenpox through contact with a person who actively has it, such as by:
- being in the room with them for at least 15 minutes
- touching their blisters
- touching items that have been recently in contact with their breath or fluid from their blisters
If you’re susceptible to chickenpox, it’s also possible to contract it if you touch the rash of a person with shingles.
If you have chickenpox, the virus can spread for about two days before the rash develops. It may continue to spread to others until the blisters fully crust over.
The rash associated with chickenpox is often recognizable, especially by trained medical professionals. But, as chickenpox becomes less common due to the chickenpox vaccine, younger doctors may not be as familiar with the rash. Symptoms other than the telltale rash include:
If you’re worried that you or your child has chickenpox, call your doctor. If it’s not a serious case, they’ll probably recommend treating the symptoms while waiting for the disease to run its course. Treatment suggestions might include:
- Nonaspirin pain medication like acetaminophen (Tylenol) can relieve fever.
- Over-the-counter topical lotions, such as calamine lotion, can relieve itching.
If a doctor feels that you or your child are likely to develop a more serious case, they may recommend an antiviral medication such as acyclovir (Zovirax).
Children and anyone under the age of 18 should never take aspirin for an illness. This is because of the risk of a rare but fatal condition called Reye syndrome.
Getting the chickenpox vaccine can reduce your risk of getting chickenpox.
Two doses of the chickenpox vaccine are about 94% effective at preventing chickenpox. People who are vaccinated but still get chickenpox usually experience a much milder version.
For adults age 50 and older, doctors typically recommend the Shingrex shingles vaccine.
It’s highly unlikely that you’ll have chickenpox more than once. And it’s also uncommon for people who have had the chickenpox vaccine to contract the virus.
If you think that you or your child has contracted the virus, visit your doctor. They can usually determine the presence of chickenpox by inspecting the rash and checking for other symptoms. If the diagnosis is unclear, they may recommend additional tests.