Shingles is caused by the Varicella zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox.
Shingles can happen in children who've previously had chickenpox. After an episode of chickenpox, the Varicella zoster virus 'sleeps' in the nerve cells. The virus can 'wake up' and cause shingles in children who:
- are run down after illness
- have an underlying condition affecting their immune systems
- are taking medication affecting their immune systems.
You can't 'catch' shingles. But if your child hasn't been immunised against chickenpox or hasn't had chickenpox before, he can catch chickenpox from someone with shingles.
Shingles rarely affects children under three years of age.
Shingles appears as a rash of small red lumps, which then form fluid-filled blisters. The blisters cluster together on a single patch of skin. New lumps form over the first few days, then the blisters crust over.
The rash occurs on the upper body more often than on the face, legs or arms. The rash isn't usually itchy, but it can be very painful.
Shingles can occasionally affect the outside lining of the eye. Your child's eye might become red and sore, and she might have tiny ulcers around her eye.
Your child won't usually feel ill or have a fever.
If your child has shingles, try to make sure that everybody who comes into contact with him during this time has been immunised against chickenpox or has had chickenpox before.
Does your child need to see a doctor about shingles?
You should take your child to your GP if:
- the rash is on your child's face or around her eye
- you're not sure whether the rash is shingles
- your child gets the rash and suffers from a chronic illness or is taking medications that affect her immune system
- the rash doesn't clear up in 10-14 days
- the rash looks infected
- your child has a fever or is unwell.
Children with shingles usually just need treatment to relieve symptoms like pain and itch.
Paracetamol might help relieve mild pain. Avoid applying creams or lotions to the rash. If your child has scratched the rash and broken the skin, make sure to wash the area well.
If shingles is diagnosed within 72 hours of the rash starting, your GP might be able to prescribe an antiviral drug. This can reduce some pain associated with shingles.
If your child's shingles rash is completely covered, he can go to school but he shouldn't swim or play contact sports for seven days after the rash appears. If the rash can't be covered, your child should stay at home until the rash has scabbed over.
Prevention of shingles
As part of the Australian National Immunisation Program (NIP), your child will get free immunisation against the Varicella zoster virus at 18 months old (if your child hasn't had chickenpox) or in year 7 of secondary school (if she hasn't had a chickenpox immunisation or infection).
If you have shingles and are caring for a child, make sure to keep your rash covered to reduce the risk of passing the virus on.
Newborn babies and people with low immunity should avoid contact with anyone with shingles.