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When Chickenpox Strikes Again


Updated July 28, 2011

Image provided by an anonymous About.com reader

Chickenpox is an itchy, sometimes painful rash caused by the varicella-zoster virus. When I was a kid, almost everybody got chickenpox, dealt with the itching and the pain, then it typically scabbed over in a week or two and was gone. It was like a rite of passage for school children everywhere. The good news was, once you got it you were done forever, or so we thought.

Unfortunately, that's not entirely true. As it turns out, the varicella virus can survive dormant in your system for many years, rearing its ugly head when you least expect it in a more painful version of the rash. Only this time, the virus appears as shingles rather than chickenpox.

Shingles is a painful condition that can range from very minor, with little or no rash, to quite severe. It will only appear on one side of the body and will cluster over a nerve bundle -- usually starting from the spine and working its way around the body.

Shingles Might Seem Like Something Else

This image was submitted by an About.com reader who believed he'd been bitten by a spider. He thought he was having a reaction to the bite. He indicated in his spider bite picture submission that he wasn't planning on seeing a doctor because this rash wasn't bothering him too badly.

There's no way to know for sure what's causing this rash, at least not from a photo on the internet. However, it resembles a shingles outbreak enough that a trip to the doctor would be a very good idea.

Even if a shingles outbreak doesn't seem too painful at first, it can result in severe long term pain -- what's known as post-herpetic neuralgia -- particularly in the elderly. Go to the doctor when you develop a rash on one side of the body or face, especially if it starts at the spine and spreads in a line. Generally, the earlier treatment starts, the better the results.

The good news is that in today's world, you can take steps to prevent chickenpox and shingles. There are now vaccines for both. Kids can get a shot to protect from chickenpox, and adults can get one for shingles.

Have a rash or think you have a spider bite and want to share? Submit a picture of your rash or your spider bite.

Any opinions expressed here are for educational purposes only and are not intended for diagnosis.

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