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Date of last update: 10/12/2017.

Forum Name: Other infections

Question: Shingles in Children

 dnprescod - Wed Jan 02, 2008 1:27 pm

Can you explain how a child who has been immunized against chicken pox can get the shingles? I thought that you can only get the shingles if you have actually had chicken pox. According to my pediatrician, "Getting the chickenpox vaccine significantly lowers your child's chances of getting chickenpox, but he or she may still develop shingles later." However, the pediatrician didn't explain the mechanism to me.

Thank you.
 Dr. Chan Lowe - Mon Feb 04, 2008 8:29 pm

User avatar Hi Dnprescod,

This is an excellent question and a source of much confusion for many people. Shingles is reactivation of the chickenpox virus. Once infected with the virus it never really goes away. The body simply suppresses its ability to propagate and cause disease. The virus tends to hide in the nerve roots. Occasionally, when the immune system is weakened for some reason the virus may reactivate causing shingles. The resulting rash typically is only distributed in one or two of the nerve supply areas due to it living in the nerve root.

The chickenpox vaccine dramatically reduces the risk of developing chickenpox and shingles but both are possible. Here's why. The vaccine, unlike many vaccines, is actually a live virus that has been altered so that it is not as strong as the typical chickenpox virus. It, too, gets suppressed by the body but much easier than the wild virus so most people do not come down with chickenpox from it. Since it is a live virus, it can reactivate just like the wild type virus and cause shingles. Typically, since the virus is weakened, the likelihood of this happening is much lower than if one gets chickenpox not from the vaccine but it is still possible.

I should also note that getting shingles from the vaccine does not necessarily indicate that there is a problem with the immune system since the vaccine associated shingles can happen in healthy, immunocompetent individuals as well.

Best wishes.
 dnprescod - Tue Feb 05, 2008 7:53 am

Thank you for your explanation, Dr. Lowe.


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