There are several misunderstandings and confusion regarding shingles and chicken pox. Herpes Zoster, or what we commonly know as shingles, is a skin rash with blisters. It usually occurs in a localised area and is mostly very painful. The virus that is responsible for shingles is called the varicella zoster.
This virus is also responsible for another disease – chicken pox. Since, these both come from varicella zoster virus, we often presume that if a person has one of these, he may accidentally spread it or the other amongst people. But that is not the case. Chicken pox and shingles are related, but not connected.
When a person gets chicken pox, it is possible that the varicella zoster virus may continue to remain in his body (ideally the spine) and lay dormant over there for many years. They may present no signs of being present in the body either. In other words, there may be no symptoms to detect that the virus is laying within the body.
Usually, a couple of years later, sometimes even after a couple of decades; the virus reawakens. The reason for this reawakening is unknown and disputed. However, it may be generally agreed upon that this reawakening can be triggered by the reduction of natural immunity in the body which happens with the progression of age.
This reawakened virus then takes the path down the sensory nerve root and travels to the level where it was first stored. Here, it appears on the skin surface of the affected nerve. This is the reason why shingles have a specific appearance pattern.
Also, for shingles to appear in both sides of the body is an extremely rare occurrence due to the same reason. The pains that one experiences before shingles appear and also after it, is because of the long term damage to the nerve that has been happening due to the presence of the virus in the body.
The above description should make it clear that shingles is not contagious and it is not possible to be affected by shingles merely by being in contact with someone who has chicken pox. It is however, theoretically possible to contract chicken pox if you have been in close contact with someone who is suffering from shingles.
Since having shingles means that the varicella zoster virus is currently in active mode in the body of the affected person; if others maintain close physical contact with them without following the basic hygiene regulation, it may be possible for them to get affected by chicken pox.
However, this usually happens in case of a long and close contact – like that of a child and parent or caregiver. More often than not, there are other factors at play which prevent one from contracting chicken pox inspite of being in touch with someone who has shingles.
Understanding if the recipient has had subclinical chicken pox which has given them a natural protection, if the recipient practices basic hygiene norms like washing of hands, using of separate towels and other linen etc, if the recipient does not poke at the scabs of the person having shingles and many more can actually help you prevent getting chicken pox.