Chickenpox and shingles are two illnesses caused by the varicella-zoster virus.

Chickenpox most commonly occurs in children and usually causes mild symptoms like:

  • blistering rash
  • fever
  • headache

In the 1990s, an average of 4 million people per year contracted chickenpox in the United States. Now that vaccines are widely available, this number has dropped to about 350,000 per year.

After a chickenpox infection, the virus remains dormant in your body. Shingles occur when the virus becomes reactivated.

Shingles can cause similar symptoms as chickenpox. But a shingles rash usually appears as a cluster of blisters on one side of your body rather than showing up all over.

Keep reading as we take a deeper look at the differences between chickenpox and shingles.

chickenpox vs shingles, mother putting an itch-relieving balm on her child's chickenpoxShare on Pinterest
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Chickenpox and shingles are caused by the same virus, but they develop in different ways.


Chickenpox is highly contagious and can easily be passed between people. The varicella-zoster virus is found worldwide and can be spread through sneezing or coughing.

You can also develop chickenpox after coming into contact with the fluid in the blisters of a person who has shingles.

It can take about 10 to 21 days after exposure for symptoms to develop.


After developing chickenpox, the virus can remain undetected in your spinal nerve roots or near where your spinal cord attaches to your skull.

The virus can remain in your nervous system indefinitely without causing symptoms, but in about 1 in 5 people, the virus becomes reactivated in the form of shingles. It’s possible to develop shingles more than once.

You can’t catch shingles from another person. It’s only possible to develop shingles if you’ve already had chickenpox.

It’s possible for somebody who has never had chickenpox to develop chickenpox after coming into contact with the fluid in your shingles rash.

Chickenpox and shingles produce similar symptoms. Here’s a look at how they compare.

chillsloss of appetite
fatiguered or pink bumps across your body
muscle weakness
an itchy rash typically on one side of your body

Chickenpox bumps usually appear about 2 days after other symptoms. They become fluid-filled blisters before eventually scabbing over and falling off.

A shingles rash often contains red patches and fluid-filled blisters. It commonly wraps around one side of your torso, but may also occur on your face or other parts of your body. Before the rash appears, you might feel itching, tingling, burning, or pain.

Here’s a look at how a shingles rash and chickenpox rash compares.

Chickenpox is most common in children. In the United States, children 4 to 10 are at the highest risk of developing chickenpox.

Receiving a chickenpox vaccine significantly decreases the likelihood of developing it. Vaccines are roughly 81 percent effective for preventing chickenpox, and 97 to 99 percent effective at preventing severe chickenpox.

Shingles most commonly develop in adults over the age of 60 who had chickenpox before the age of 1. Anybody who had chickenpox when they were younger can potentially develop shingles. People who’ve never had chickenpox can’t develop shingles.

Chickenpox is highly contagious and can easily be transmitted to people who haven’t had chickenpox or haven’t been vaccinated. It’s still possible to get chickenpox if you’ve been vaccinated, but it’s less likely.

Shingles can’t be passed between people, and it only occurs in people who’ve previously had chickenpox. But if a person who hasn’t been exposed to the virus touches the fluid in your rash, they can develop chickenpox. Covering your rash can help prevent passing it to others.

Vaccines are now widely available to protect against chickenpox and shingles. Getting vaccinated is the most effective way to prevent both before they develop.

Chickenpox vaccines

The varicella vaccine was introduced in 1995, and has significantly decreased the number of cases of chickenpox. It prevents 70 to 90 percent of infections and 95 percent of severe disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends children under the age of 13 get two doses of the vaccine. They should get their first dose at age 12 to 15 months and the second dose between the ages of 4 and 6.

The CDC also recommends that people over the age of 13 who’ve never had chickenpox or a vaccine get two doses at least 28 days apart.

There are two types of vaccines licensed in the United States:


  • protects from chickenpox
  • can be used for children over 12 months and adults
  • can be given to children for their first two doses


  • protects from chickenpox, measles, mumps, and rubella
  • approved for children ages 12 months to 12 years

Shingles vaccines

The CDC recommends that healthy adults over the age of 50 get two doses of the shingles vaccine called Shingrix.

Shingrix is more than 90 percent effective at preventing shingles and long-term nerve pain that can be a side-effect of shingles.

Can you get shingles if you’ve never had chickenpox?

No, you can only get shingles if you’ve previously had chickenpox. The same virus — varicella-zoster virus — causes both infections. The first time you get the virus it leads to chickenpox. After a chickenpox infection, the virus stays dormant in your nervous system. If the virus reactivates, it leads to shingles. Many people who’ve had chickenpox do not ever get shingles.

Can you get shingles if you’ve had chickenpox?

Yes, you can develop shingles after you’ve had chickenpox. The virus may stay dormant in your system for a long time after you recover from chickenpox, and in about 1 in 5 people, the virus reactivates in the form of shingles.

Can you get shingles from a child with chickenpox?

No, you cannot get shingles from a person of any age with chickenpox. If you’ve never had chickenpox, though, you could get chickenpox from a person with shingles.

What are the first signs of shingles?

Early signs of shingles may vary individually, but some people feel localized pain or itching before developing a rash. Headaches and a general sense of being unwell are also possible.

What triggers a shingles outbreak?

A compromised (or weakened) immune system, some medications, and chronic conditions like HIV or cancer, may trigger shingles in some people who’ve previously had chickenpox. Emotional and physical stress may also trigger a shingles outbreak in some people. You cannot get shingles if you’ve never had chickenpox, though. The shingles vaccine may lower the chance of a shingles outbreak.

Chickenpox and shingles are caused by the same virus, but they’re separate conditions. Chickenpox typically develops in children and causes red or pink spots across your body that blister over. It’s highly contagious, and can easily be passed between people.

Shingles can only develop after you’ve already had chickenpox. It causes a rash that most commonly occurs on one side of your torso. Unlike chickenpox, shingles is most common in people over the age of 60.