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Shingles - info for children

shingles; chicken pox; rash; painful sores; nerves ;


What is shingles?

Shingles is caused by the virus that causes chickenpox.

old peopleAfter someone has had chickenpox, the virus may stay in some nerve cells of the person's spine (called 'nerve roots'). It does not damage the nerve or the way the nerve works until, for some reason which is not yet clear, the virus starts to grow again, causing shingles.

Shingles is pain and spots along a strip of skin that is served by these nerve cells.

Children under 12 rarely get shingles.

Older people, especially the very old [over 80 years] are more likely to get shingles.

How do you get shingles?

You can only get shingles if you have had chickenpox. The chickenpox vaccine cannot give you shingles, or chickenpox.

chicken poxBut if someone has shingles, then the watery stuff from the blisters can give someone else chicken pox if that person hasn't had it.

You can't catch the shingles virus through the air when someone coughs or sneezes like you can with chickenpox.

The virus may become active again if a person is very stressed at some time later in life or has had a lot of illnesses which have overworked the body's immune system.

[The immune system is like an army of cells in the body which rushes to fight off any germs that try to get into the body to make you sick].

Check out our topic on the Immune system if you want to know more.

What shingles looks and feels like

  • Shingles start when the viruses start to grow and damage the nerve in the spinal cord where they have been hiding.
  • This causes a really bad pain in the area of skin that the nerve go to. Although the virus is in the spinal part of the nerve, the pain is felt as if it is in the skin. The pain is only on one side of the body and often it affects the nerves to the chest, tummy, leg or face. It comes in one patch only, not over the whole body like chicken pox.
  • A few days later, spots like chicken pox spots, break out on the skin along the pathway of the nerve. The spots are only in the area that the nerve goes to, and can be in a band from the back around one side only to the chest or tummy or outer side of the leg, or one side of the face.
  • These spots turn into watery blisters and then start to dry up (the spots look like chicken pox spots and heal the same way).
  • The pain of shingles can be a tingling feeling, or can be really very painful for a long time, long after the spots are gone.

Looking after shingles

If someone develops pain and spots in a band around the body that could be shingles, and goes to the doctor straight away, then there is an anti-viral medicine that can help make it a short illness. The medicine only works if you start taking it as soon after the rash appears.

This drug helps the spots heal quickly, stops any new spots coming and shortens the painful time.

If you, or someone you know, has shingles then:

  • Stay home and rest. Staying home is a good idea as the person with shingles could give chicken pox to someone. Once the sores have healed the person cannot pass the infection on.
  • If you need to, take paracetamol or ibuprofen for the pain. If the pain is very bad, the doctor might suggest stronger pain relief, but follow the doctor's advice. (Stronger pain relief can cause people to be sleepy, and they should not ride a bike or operate machinery after taking this sort of medication.)
  • Make sure you don't spread the virus and give chickenpox to anyone who has not been immunised against chickenpox. People who have had chickenpox can't catch it again. Make sure they wash their hands if they have touched your spots or something that has been on your spots.
  • Keep the spots uncovered unless you need to go out. They heal better if they are open to the air.
  • don't scratchPut calamine lotion or other soothing lotion on the spots to help dry them up. Ask a pharmacist about what can be used.
  • Don’t hug anyone who hasn't had chickenpox or been immunised against chicken pox!
  • Don’t pick at the spots or they could get infected.
  • Be careful to use your own towel and keep it away from everyone else.

After shingles

resting in bedThe pain from shingles can hang around for many weeks after the spots have healed, so if you or someone in your family have had shingles don't try to rush around too much at first.

If it is your parent or caregiver who has had shingles and they have the severe pain that can often linger after the shingles, they will need your help to get meals and keep the house tidy because the pain can make them very tired. It may take a while but it will get better.

Dr Kim says

Dr Kim
"It's unusual for kids to get shingles. But your mum, dad or grandparents may get it. You might catch chickenpox from them while they have the sores so love them from a distance unless you have been immunised against chickenpox, or have had it. Once the sores have healed you can't catch chickenpox from them.

The immunisation you have had to protect you from chickenpox will also protect you from shingles"

In South Australia kids are immunised against chickenpox when they are 18 months old.

People over 70 can be immunised against shingles now. Maybe you could ask the 'oldies' in your family if they have had this 'shot' yet.


You know you've got shingles
'cos shingles tingles
All along the nerve.
When the spots go away
Some pain may stay.
Chickenpox starts it
So do stay away
From people who have it.
And, if you may
Get an injection
From doctor or nurse.
Chicken pox is yukky
But shingles is worse!


What some kids said

"My grandma had shingles on her face. She looked scary but I still loved her."  Mark

"My mum saw the shingles when she was taking her bathers off. She thought she had been stung by a jellyfish!" Alex

"My dad had shingles on his body but it was his leg that hurt for a long time afterwards." Mel 

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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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