Is Chickenpox Herpes?

How the Viruses (and Public Attitudes) Differ

Herpes is a highly stigmatized word and one that most people don't want to be associated with. That's why some people balk when they hear that chickenpox is a form of herpes. Not only that, the same herpes virus that causes chickenpox in children can also cause shingles in adults when it is reactivated.

Does this mean all of these conditions can be referred to as "herpes?"

Child with chickenpox on the back of her mother
MilosBataveljic / Getty Images 

About Herpes Viruses

Herpesviridae is a group of viruses also described as herpes viruses. There are several herpes viruses that have different ways of targeting tissue in the body, but they each cause a blister-like rash that can spread. The name Herpeviridae is derived from the Greek word herpein, meaning "to creep."

There are at least six different herpes viruses that commonly affect humans:

Making the Differentiation

Often, when someone says that they have herpes, they mean that they have genital herpes. However, it is technically correct to refer to either genital herpes or oral herpes as herpes.

By contrast, infections with the other types of herpes viruses are not clinically referred to as herpes. Although chickenpox, shingles, mononucleosis, and CMV retinitis are all caused by herpes viruses, they are not considered to be herpes in the usual sense of the word.

The term "herpes" also suggests sexual transmission. It is why people refer to herpes on the lip as a "cold sore" and herpes on the vagina, penis, or anus as "genital herpes" even if the same virus is involved.

Sexual transmission is one of the differentiating factors between chickenpox and herpes, as VZV is not sexually transmitted. Although sexual transmission is possible for EBV and CMV, they can be passed through other bodily fluids, such as saliva, tears, urine, blood, and breast milk.

Due to the mode of transmission, something like a cold sore might be considered "innocent," while genital herpes often carries the stigma of blame. It is an attitude that reflects the general discomfort that many people have with sex and sexuality.

  • Caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV)

  • Primarily affects children under the age of 10

  • The virus becomes latent after the initial infection but can reactive in later years as shingles

  • Is not sexually transmitted

Genital Herpes
  • Caused mainly by HSV-2 but can also be spread from mouth to genitals with HSV-1

  • Affects sexually active teens and adults

  • Can reactivate after the initial infection with occasional acute outbreaks

  • Is sexually transmitted

A Word From Verywell

The stigma associated with herpes is one of the main reasons why many don't get treated and end up passing the virus to others. The same thing is seen with HIV and pretty much every other sexually transmitted infection. And the problem is growing.

Genital herpes affects one in eight Americans between the ages of 14 and 49, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Moreover, an estimated 776,000 new infections occur each and every year.

The question as to whether chickenpox and herpes are "the same thing" is not as important as asking ourselves why one makes us feel ashamed and the other doesn't?

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is HPV the same as herpes?

    No, HPV is not the same as herpes (HSV). There is a different virus responsible for each one. In the case of HPV, there are at least 200 different types of virus that lead to warts on the body. HSV can cause cold sores to appear on different areas of the body depending on whether HSV type 1 or type 2 is responsible.

  • Can you get shingles in the genital area?

    Yes, you can get shingles (herpes zoster) in the genital area, but it is extremely rare. Both types of herpes virus (HSV-1 and HSV-2) can affect the genital area, while shingles usually appears on either side of the body or the face in the form of a rash or blisters. Shingles is due to a separate virus known as the varicella-zoster virus (VZV).

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genital Herpes - CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed).

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Possible Causes.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About Cytomegalovirus (CMV).

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chickenpox (Varicella) Transmission.

  5. McQuillan G, Kruszon-Moran D, Flagg EW, Paulose-Ram R. Prevalence of herpes simplex virus type 1 and type 2 in persons aged 14–49: United States, 2015–2016. In; NCHS Data Brief No. 304.

  6. MedlinePlus. HPV.

  7. MedlinePlus. Herpes Simplex.

  8. Tung RC, Shaaban A, Kim M, Cristiano P. An Unusual Presentation of Herpes Zoster. Kans J Med. 2020;13:19-20. PMID:32047584

  9. MedlinePlus. Shingles.

Additional Reading

By Elizabeth Boskey, PhD
Elizabeth Boskey, PhD, MPH, CHES, is a social worker, adjunct lecturer, and expert writer in the field of sexually transmitted diseases.