Varicella-zoster virus

The varicella-zoster virus (VZV) can cause two diseases: chickenpox (varicella) and shingles (herpes zoster).

Before a vaccine was developed in 1994, chickenpox was a common contagious childhood disease that produced itchy blisters, but rarely caused serious problems. However, if adults who did not have the disease as children contract it, it could cause more serious complications.

Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. Once you have had chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus lies dormant in your nerves and can re-emerge as shingles. Shingles, which is characterized by a rash of blisters, can be very painful. But it is not life threatening. Some people who develop shingles also develop a condition caused postherpetic neuralgia, which causes the skin to remain painful even after the rash is gone. Shingles is most common in people over age 60, or in those with weakened immune systems. There is a vaccine that reduces your risk of getting shingles.

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Review Date: 2/4/2016  

Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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