Shingles 101: How Chickenpox Can Lead to This Skin Condition Later in Life

Medically Reviewed by Madeline Hubbard, RN, BSN

Photo Courtesy: Cavan Images/Getty Images

Caused by a virus, shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a painful condition that results in concentrated skin rashes and blisters. The varicella-zoster virus, the virus that causes shingles, is also responsible for chickenpox. This means that individuals who have developed chickenpox retain the varicella-zoster virus, potentially leading to shingles later in life. 

What Is Shingles?

Once a person has contracted chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus remains dormant — that is, it remains in the body without showing symptoms — in certain nerves of the body. In some cases, the virus stays dormant for the remainder of a person’s life. In others, however, the virus can become active again and lead to the development of shingles years or decades after the initial chickenpox infection.

The incidence of shingles in young, healthy individuals ranges between 1.2 and 3.4 per 1000 people per year. Among those older than 65 years old, the incidence is between 3.9 and 11.8 per 1000 people per year. In the United States, about one in every three individuals will experience shingles in their lifetime.

The signature shingles rash most often appears on just one side of the body — around the waistline or side of the trunk, or around one eye. While shingles is not considered a life-threatening virus, it can be quite painful. Moreover, early treatment is crucial to prevent potential complications.