Recovering From Chickenpox Doesn’t Mean the Virus Is Gone

Many people view chickenpox as just a normal part of growing up. What they might not know is that recovering from the disease doesn’t mean the virus is gone or that they’re immune from a future problem. In fact, chickenpox — technically known as the varicella zoster virus — is a type of herpes virus that becomes a lifelong resident in the body. It may be silent for many years, hiding out inside nerve cells, but it can reactivate later, wreaking havoc in the form of the excruciating skin disorder, shingles. Shingles comes with its own risks. People who develop shingles have an almost 60% percent higher risk of heart attack and a 35% higher risk of stroke. In fact, anything that weakens a person’s immune system — mental and physical stress, cancer, severe illness, surgery, medications or chemo/radiation therapies, transplant — increases that person’s risk for developing shingles, no matter the age. That said, shingles occurs more commonly as a person ages, with a significant increase in occurrence in persons 50 years of age and older. That because as we age, our immune system declines. The CDC estimates that one in three people will develop shingles at some point in their lives. The best protection against shingles is to never get chickenpox, but since that’s a long-shot, it’s recommended that people over 50 who have had chickenpox in the past get a shingles vaccination. Typical vaccinations last about five years.