You might not realize it but if you had chickenpox when you were younger, you could develop shingles later in life.

The shingles virus causes a painful rash that may appear as a blotch of blisters on the face or trunk of the body.

“What happens is chickenpox, once you get it, never leaves the body entirely. It remains dormant within the body and it hides along the nerve roots,” said Dr. Ted Louie, an infectious disease expert with the Medical Society of New Jersey, who is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Saint Peter’s University Hospital and Highland Park Medical.

He said as you get older “your immunity wanes, so the ones most likely to get it would be older people.”

Louie is quick to point out, however, individuals who are younger may also be at an elevated risk for shingles if they have serious ailments or diseases that weaken their immune systems.

Shingles comes out along the nerve roots and causes a skin rash that is often quite painful, he said, "so this is not exactly like chickenpox but it’s the same virus."

Kouie estimated if you did have chickenpox when you were a youngster, the odds of developing shingles by the time you’re 70 years old are 1 in 3.

He said the shingles vaccine is not completely effective — but it does help.

“It reduces the incidence of shingles by about half, and if you do get shingles but you’ve had the vaccine, then the shingles tends to be milder,” he said.

If your immune system is normal and you do develop shingles, Louie said: “the typical case, it will go away in about 10 to 14 days, and you may have moderate pain for that time.”

However, he said, “if you’re unlucky then you can get what’s called postherpetic neuralgia, so you can get a burning type of nerve pain and that pain can sometimes be very severe. Occasionally you’ll see people with severe pain last for years, and it can be debilitating.”

Louie said shingles usually affects one side of the body, left or right.

“Common areas where you may get a painful rash are the face or trunk part of your body, and if you have a cluster of blisters and it clearly is just one side of the face, and it ends right in the middle, then that would be suggestive of shingles," he said.

He stressed if you do get shingles, try to get to your doctor within two days, because there are anti-viral medications that can make the its duration shorter.

He also noted studies have been done that indicate “it’s a good idea for anyone over the age of 50 or 60 to get the shingles vaccine because it does offer added protection, but many insurance companies will not pay for the vaccine for those under 60.

The shingles vaccine can cost between $200 and $250 without insurance.

He added most of the time you’ll only get shingles once, “but you can be very unlucky and get it a second time.”

Contact reporter David Matthau at

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