Can you get shingles and chicken pox simultaneously?

As I understand it, the varicella virus gives you itchy pox all over, then retreats into the central nervous system, where it lies dormant. Years later, it can attack again in the form of shingles.

Questions: Why does it have to lay dormant before erupting into shingles? Why can’t it go into your nerves and cause pain simultaneously with the itchy pox?

Here’s why I ask. I got chicken pox in my late twenties. I caught them from a little girl who was staying in the shelter where I worked. I had pox all over, some of them quite large, but they didn’t itch; they hurt. A lot. As in I got through the worst of it by focusing on one minute at a time. I didn’t go to a doctor because I had no health insurance and besides, I figured no doctor wants a pox-y person in their waiting room. (This was pre-vaccine.)

I assumed the ungodly pain/no itching was typical of adult chicken pox. I only recently found out adult chicken pox is as itchy as kiddie pox. I should add that my immune system wasn’t great back then. (Years later, I was diagnosed with lupus.) I’m not looking for some sort of retro diagnosis. It’s just that my experience makes me curious about this dormant period.

I think it does. AFAIK, ‘retreats into your nervous system’ really means ‘is never fully eradicated from your nervous system’. It doesn’t go there after chicken pox - it goes everywhere during chicken pox but is wiped out from all places except your nervous system during recovery

What’s interesting and apparently a bit mysterious is the mechanism by which it reactivates - shingles is known to be associated with emotional stress, but it seems to be unclear whether that stress does something specific to your nervous system to cause the virus to suddenly thrive, or whether the stress simply depresses your immune function and allows the virus to win for a while (which presumably implies the virus was fighting literally all of that time it appeared dormant)

^^Similarly, herpes virus recrudescence seems associated with stress.

On the bacterial side, tuberculosis organisms can be walled off inside granulomas that break down due to high levels of cortisol (aka stress). We’ve known for a long time that people with TB need a calm environment free from stress.

Interesting comment, but do you have an actual medical cite for that? I had shingles 10 years ago, as have three friends I know of. In discussing with my doctor and our mutual discussions afterwards, in each case it was brought on by extreme physical stress which depressed our immune systems long enough to allow the virus to reactivate.

I’ve done a fair bit of reading on it [not recently mind you] and I have never never heard anything about “emotional stress” being a trigger. ISTM if emotional stress was the trigger there would be an epidemic of shingles in right now

It’s not a cite exactly,but my 30 year old son-in-law was told by the doctor that his case of shingles was likely brought on by work stress- and it’s very uncommon for a 30 year old to have shingles.

My wife had shingles earlier this year, and afterwards got the shingrix vaccine. Today we noticed what appears to be a legion in the same area she got it last time. I’m hoping this is a false alarm, but it looks very similar. We hoped that getting the vaccine would prevent reoccurrences; anyone know the dope on that? I know it’s recommended, but no idea how effective it is.

I wouldn’t know where to go looking for a cite of sufficient veracity, but WebMD lists ‘stress’ as one of the risk factors (and they’re not talking about purely physical stress). I guess I really meant ‘psychological stress’ rather than ‘emotional stress’.

I’ve suffered shingles on and off all my adult life and for me (not that I imagine this anecdote to be a cite) it’s always been tied to stress; when I lost my job; when I was being bullied in the workplace; when I was under extreme, unreasonable pressure to perform (although in that latter case, the 80 hour working week probably caused some plain old physical stress of its own).

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there is a rise in shingles cases going on right now. Not sure how to find stats on that though.

I never had chickenpox, but I had shingles when I was 12 years old. That makes me think it “goes into” the nervous system first, and then chooses whether it comes out along a single nerve line (shingles) or all over (chickenpox) or both.

It’s possible to have a mild enough case of chicken pox as a child that it’s not recognized as chicken pox. My three kids all had it (before immunizations), and if I hadn’t checked him I wouldn’t have known that the middle one was infected. He had a mildly elevated temperature and maybe three tiny pox hidden in creases. He did not slow down and he was not scratching. If his brothers hadn’t been spotty, itchy, and miserable, I’d never have checked him.

He’s the one who got shingles in his thirties, though. If he had been an only child, it would have been a mystery.

Had chickenpox as a toddler and got shingles in 6th grade. My memory is a little fuzzy but I seem to recall falling on my butt onto a flat sprinkler cap in the schoolyard one day. Several days later I felt dull pain in my lower back which eventually led to lesions and blisters in that area. The pain eventually became very severe and I couldn’t even walk for a few days. Went to the hospital and received a diagnosis.

I recovered after about a week with medication, and haven’t had any lingering issues in the ~2 decades since.

Thanks for the many interesting replies and the information. It makes sense that the virus would be everywhere at the start and would merely stay in the nervous system. But if that’s the case, why aren’t there more cases like mine, with obvious nerve pain?

Maybe the answer is stress? Since chicken pox is/was a childhood disease, and children tend to be less stressed, maybe that’s a clue. I was stressed when I got chicken pox because we were poor and my infant son had a severe asthma attack. (I did take him to the doc.) However, if stress is the missing ingredient, you’d think more adults who had chicken pox would get the hybrid variety I did, wouldn’t you?

To hopefully clarify a couple of things:

Chickenpox can be painful, typically because of the generalized rash leading to blisters/sores. The pain of shingles tends to relate to distribution of a specific nerve where the virus has been lying dormant, along with a rash spreading along the area of nerve distribution (dermatome).

Stress is one possible trigger for shingles; the underlying event (where it can be identified) is some form of immune suppression, caused more commonly by factors such as age-related diminishing of immune function, certain drugs and diseases.

I have not heard of it being medically accepted that one can have both chickenpox and shingles simultaneously or that a “hybrid” ailment combining both exists.

Thank you. I really appreciate your take on this. I hadn’t heard of anyone having chicken pox that presented as the typical rash but with truly agonizing pain and no itching whatsoever, and I couldn’t find anything online about non-itchy, painful chicken pox. My GP suggested perhaps there was some sort of crossover–sheer speculation on his part. I had pox all over, including my scalp, so definitely not solely along nerve pathways.