ZocdocAnswersCan chicken pox reoccur later in life?

Question

Can chicken pox reoccur later in life?

I?ve heard that chicken pox only happens once. Like if you get it once you can?t get it again. But does it stay in your body? Could it reoccur later in life like a ?flare up? or something?

Answer

Chicken pox is caused by the varicella virus. You are right that, in most people, chicken pox occurs only once. When someone is first infected by the varicella virus, they will break out in a blistering, crusting rash over most of their body - this is "chicken pox." Most of the time, the body's immune system will quickly bring the infection under control and the rash will go away. However, the virus is never totally eliminated from the virus - rather, it goes into hibernation, primarily living inside nerve cells along the spinal column. Our immune systems, however, tend to keep it in check and keep it from reactivating. As we age, however, our immune systems become less effective. Therefore in older adults or in people with weak immune systems, especially during times of stress or illness, the virus sometimes escapes from control and reactivates. It doesn't cause 'chicken pox' however - the immune system is too strong still to allow that. Rather, it causes 'shingles' which is a localized infection of the skin and nerves in a particular pattern originating from nerve where the virus was hiding. If you are an older adult, you should talk to your primary care doctor about receiving the shingles vaccine, which is a relatively new vaccine that can be used to prevent this reactivation phenomenon.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.