Shingles - Can Children Get Shingles?

Expert Pediatrics Q&A

A sleeping child with chickenpox
Children who have chickenpox can later develop shingles.. Mieke Dalle/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Q. My daughter was just diagnosed with shingles. She is only fourteen. Isn't shingles just something older people get? Can kids get shingles? Diane, Utah.

A. Surprisingly, you can get shingles at almost any age, and about five percent of cases occur in children under age 15.

Still, shingles is much more common in adults. In fact, 75% of shingles cases occur in adults over age 45.

Shingles

Shingles, which is also called herpes zoster, is a reactivation of previous chicken pox or varicella zoster virus infection.

After a case of chicken pox, the chicken pox virus remains latent or dormant, but can at some point become reactivated -- causing shingles.

Some facts about shingles include that:

  • shingles is rare in children under ten years of age
  • younger children who do develop shingles tend to have milder symptoms than adults with shingles
  • people have a 10 to 15 percent chance of developing shingles at some point in their life if they once had chicken pox
  • children are thought to be at increased risk for developing shingles if they had chicken pox before they were 12 months old or if their mother had chicken pox in her third trimester of pregnancy

Did you daughter ever have chicken pox? If not, did she get the chicken pox vaccine?

Shingles Symptoms

Classic shingles symptoms are a little different in children, which can make diagnosis difficult.

Unlike adults, in which shingles symptoms often begin with burning or tingling pain in one area of their body, which is followed by a rash with fluid-filled blisters, younger children often don't have much or any pain.

They still get the rash, though, which appear in clusters in a single band on one side of their body.

The shingles rash begins as small red bumps, which then become blisters, that over a week develop a crust and eventually go away, much like chicken pox. The shingles rash does not spread all over the child's body like chicken pox does, though, instead staying in the little band where it began.

Also unlike adults, children rarely develop postherpetic neuralgia, which is a pain at the site of the shingles rash that is still present more than 30 days after the rash began.

Shingles Prevention

A shingles vaccine is available to help prevent shingles. Zostavax can be given as a one-time dose to adults 60 years or older to prevent shingles.

Does the chicken pox vaccine (Varivax) prevent shingles? Not directly, since children who get the chicken pox vaccine, even if they don't ever get chicken pox, can still get shingles. Their risk of developing shingles does seem to be much less than for children who aren't vaccinated for with the chicken pox.

What You Need To Know About Shingles

Other things to know about shingles include that:

  • Because shingles is not very common in children, it is sometimes misdiagnosed as other more common skin rashes, like impetigo or even poison ivy.
     
  • Shingles usually stays in a single band or area of a person's body that is called a dermatome that corresponds to one area of skin that is supplied by the same nerve.
     

And most importantly, know that the chicken pox vaccine is not causing a surge in shingle cases or a shingles epidemic. While there has been a rise in cases of shingles, despite what you will read on most anti-vax websites, it is not because of the chicken pox vaccine. This is just another anti-vaccine myth that scares parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Sources:

DEYOUNG GR. Herpes Zoster Virus Vaccine (Zostavax) for the Prevention of Shingles. Am Fam Physician - June 15, 2007; 75(12); 1843-1844.

Feder HM Jr. Herpes zoster in otherwise healthy children. Pediatr Infect Dis J - 01-MAY-2004; 23(5): 451-7; quiz 458-60

Kliegman: Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 18th ed.

Long: Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, 3rd ed.

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