Tag: herpes zoster

Origins of a Name – Chickenpox

We know how a lot of diseases got their names, and it’s not always the kind of association that you might think.

For example, Fifth disease got its name because it was literally the 5th disease known to cause a fever and a rash!

“Measles is, he says, derived from the Dutch maseln (measles); the disease is also called in Holland mczsel-sucht, the measle-sickness; so translated by an old English writer. The literal sense is “small spots.”

Sykes On the Origin and History of Some Disease Names

And measles likely comes from the Dutch word for “small spots.”

So Why Do They Call It Chickenpox?

While that all makes perfect sense, one name that you likely don’t give much thought to, maybe because we don’t see it much anymore, is the name chickenpox.

How did we end up with the name chickenpox?

Did you ever think it was spread from chickens?

That it is caused by the varicella-zoster virus doesn’t really help understand the nickname. Nor does the fact that reactivation of chickenpox leads to shingles or herpes zoster.

“In 1767, an English doctor, William Heberden, realized two important things. First, he showed that chickenpox is different from the more deadly disease, smallpox. Second, he showed that once a person has had chickenpox, that person usually never gets it again (In other words, they’re immune for life). “

Case file: Blister Sisters

William Heberden wasn’t the first to study chickenpox though.

Was he the first to name it, in his paper, On the Chicken-Pox?

William Heberden doesn't provide any clues to how chickenpox got its name.
William Heberden doesn’t provide any clues to how chickenpox got its name.

Probably not…

  • the Charaka Samhita, an ancient Ayurvedic text describes chickenpox
  • Giovanni Filippo Ingrassia – described chickenpox in the 16th Century
  • Dawud al-Antaki – talks about chickenpox in his book Tadhkirat Dawud in 1599, but considers it a benign form of smallpox
  • Richard Morton – also describes chickenpox as a mild form of smallpox in 1694
  • Thomas Fuller – wrote about chickenpox in his Exanthemologia in 1730
  • Samuel Johnson – described chickenpox in 1755 in his dictionary

So none of that really tells how why we ended up with the name chickenpox though, does it?

One big clue?

In 1886, Thomas Fagge claimed that the origin of the term chickenpox came from the word “chickpease,” because the early chickenpox rash looks like a chickpea…

One thing is clear though. Chickenpox has been around a long time, but fortunately can now be easily prevented with the chickenpox vaccine.

More on Chicken Pox

Does the Chicken Pox Vaccine Protect You from Shingles?

The chicken pox vaccine protects you from getting chicken pox.

A billboard in Minnesota educates parents about the benefits of the chicken pox vaccine.
A billboard in Minnesota educates parents about the benefits of the chicken pox vaccine.

Shingles is a reactivation of chicken pox, which can occur even after you have gotten the chicken pox vaccine, since it is a live virus vaccine.

Does the Chicken Pox Vaccine Protect You from Shingles?

We have long expected that the risk of shingles after vaccination with the chicken pox vaccine would be lower than a natural infection.

“In the early post-varicella vaccination period, incidence rates of medically attended herpes zoster did not increase for the overall population and decreased moderately for children 9 years and younger, the age group targeted for varicella vaccination.

Tanuseputro et al on Population-based incidence of herpes zoster after introduction of a publicly funded varicella vaccination program

And now we have even more evidence!

A recent study, The Epidemiology of Herpes Zoster in the United States During the Era of Varicella and Herpes Zoster Vaccines: Changing Patterns Among Children, has found that the incidence of shingles “declined in a step-wise pattern since the varicella vaccination program was introduced.”

“We found that HZ incidence declined dramatically among children since 1998 as the varicella vaccination program was being introduced and was maturing…”

Harpez et al on The Epidemiology of Herpes Zoster in the United States During the Era of Varicella and Herpes Zoster Vaccines: Changing Patterns Among Children

Did you need another reason to get your kids vaccinated and protected with the chicken pox vaccine?

More on Protection Against Shingles with the Chicken Pox Vaccine

Can You Still Get Shingles After Having the Chicken Pox Vaccine?

It is very easy to get confused when thinking or talking about chicken pox and shingles.

Remembering a few things should help though:

  • shingles (herpes zoster) is a reactivation of chicken pox (varicella zoster) – since they are caused by the same virus, you had to have been exposed to the chicken pox virus (varicella zoster virus) to later get shingles
  • exposure to the chicken pox virus can come from a natural chicken pox infection or from getting vaccinated against chicken pox, as it is a live, attenuated vaccine (Varivax)

So no, getting the chicken pox vaccine will not prevent you from later getting shingles. The shingles vaccine is a different vaccine that is given to seniors to help prevent them from getting shingles.

Can You Still Get Shingles After Having the Chicken Pox Vaccine?

Have you ever heard of a child vaccinated against chicken pox getting shingles? It can happen. It’s not a vaccine injury.

Remember that you can get shingles at any age – it is not just a disease of senior citizens. Even preschools or teens can get shingles, with the risk increasing with age.

Although rare, even infants can develop shingles, most commonly if their mothers had a chicken pox infection while pregnant.
Although rare, even infants can develop shingles, most commonly if their mothers had a chicken pox infection while pregnant. Photo by Kaoutar Zinelabidine et al.

Although the chicken pox vaccine won’t prevent you from getting shingles, it does work well to prevent you from getting chicken pox.

And it is thought that getting vaccinated and protected against chicken pox will decrease your risk of later getting shingles, even before you ever get the shingles vaccine.

“In the early post-varicella vaccination period, incidence rates of medically attended herpes zoster did not increase for the overall population and decreased moderately for children 9 years and younger, the age group targeted for varicella vaccination.”

Tanuseputro et al on Population-based incidence of herpes zoster after introduction of a publicly funded varicella vaccination program

No chicken pox and a lower risk of shingles?

I’m glad my kids are fully vaccinated!

More on Shingles and the Chicken Pox Vaccine

Shingles Vaccine

The varicella zoster virus causes chicken pox.

When chicken pox becomes reactivated, people get shingles or herpes zoster. A painful rash that can last for several weeks, shingles can be prevented with a shingles vaccine.

Shingles Vaccines

Licensed in 2006, Zostavax was the first shingles vaccine, and it was recommended for all seniors who are at least 60 years old.

High demand has led to shortages of Shingrix.
High demand has led to shortages of Shingrix.

Shingrix became the second shingles vaccine to be licensed in the United States, becoming the preferred shingles vaccine in 2017. It should be given to healthy adults 50 years and older – two doses, separated by 2 to 6 months.

More on Shingles Vaccines