A Virus Common in Children Poses a Greater Threat to Adults

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CDC recommends two doses of chickenpox vaccine for children, adolescents, and adults who have never had chickenpox and were never vaccinated. Children are routinely recommended to receive the first dose at 12 through 15 months old and a second dose at 4 through 6 years old.
CDC recommends two doses of chickenpox vaccine for children, adolescents, and adults who have never had chickenpox and were never vaccinated. Children are routinely recommended to receive the first dose at 12 through 15 months old and a second dose at 4 through 6 years old.

Mega Doctor News

Dr. Li Yu Mitchell
Dr. Li Yu Mitchell

According to Dr.Li-Yu Mitchell, aTyler family physician and a member of the Texas Medical Association’s Council on Health Promotion and Be Wise — ImmunizeSM Advisory Committee, Varicella-zoster virus can cause chickenpox in young people and then reactivate in the body later in life as a more painful, blistery rash called shingles. 

She also pointed out that Chickenpox is highly contagious; shingles is not contagious, but a person with shingles can easily pass along the varicella-zoster virus and give someone chickenpox. Fortunately, there is a unique set of vaccines to treat each disease.

A common childhood illness can strike the same person twice, once as a child and later as an adult — and without treatment, the adult version of the virus can be even more painful. The varicella-zoster virus does double duty, causing itchy, fluid-filled blisters on the head and body of young patients, and then can reactivate as a more painful, blistery rash called shingles after the child grows up.  “One nasty virus can wreak havoc in the lives of young and older patients,” said Dr. Mitchell. 


Health experts say vaccination is the only way to prevent chickenpox, and later, the shingles virus. Children should get two doses of the chickenpox vaccine; once at 12-15 months old and later at 4-6 years old. Since chickenpox is highly contagious, Texas schoolchildren are required to get the vaccine before attending school. The shot gives relief, even if it doesn’t always provide a 100-percent shield. “Even if a vaccinated person gets chickenpox, the symptoms are usually much milder. Fortunately, a two-dose vaccine is 90-percent effective at preventing chickenpox,” Dr. Mitchell said. 

Since its introduction in the United States in 1995, the chickenpox vaccine has led to 92 percent fewer cases of the illness, 84 percent fewer hospitalizations, and a 90-percent drop in deaths, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports. And those who get the chickenpox vaccine have little chance of getting shingles. 

However, most adults did not get chickenpox vaccine as children, and CDC says more than 90 percent of Americans 40 years or older had chickenpox as kids, whether they remember it or not. As a result, about one in three people in the United States — more than a million people a year by some estimates — will develop shingles during their lifetime. The risk of this painful illness grows as people get older, according to CDC. The varicella-zoster virus creates a one-two punch, Dr. Mitchell said. 

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“To get shingles, you must have had chickenpox first,” she said. Protection is available, however, so adults do not have to suffer. “There is a two-dose vaccine that can prevent shingles in adults,” said Dr. Mitchell. For most adult patients, CDC now recommends a new vaccine introduced this year called Shingrix because it is 97-percent effective for those aged 50-69 years, and 91-percent effective for those 70 years of age and older. 

Between 2006 and 2018, a vaccine called Zostavax was the only shingles shot available. It reduced the risk of shingles by 51 percent and gave protection for about five years. CDC recommends Shingrix for everyone aged 50 and older — even if they already received the Zostavax vaccine. Dr. Mitchell recommends people ask their physician for advice. “Any adult can get the vaccine, and healthy adults over age 50 should get it.” 

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