Varicella-Zoster Virus

What is Varicella-Zoster Virus?

Varicella-zoster virus (VZV) is a virus that is responsible for two very distinct diseases, chickenpox and shingles. As a member of the herpes virus family, the virus begins in the body as chickenpox and can later on come back as shingles in a person’s lifetime.

What are the Causes of VZV?

A person can become infected with VZV through direct contact with another person who has chickenpox or shingles or through contact with the fluid from the open sores from a person infected with either condition. Additionally, an infected person can spread the virus through the air by coughing and sneezing.

What are the Symptoms of VZV?

The symptoms of VZV are depending upon the type of infection. For those infected with chickenpox, it manifests through:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Itching
  • Rash
  • Fatigue
  • Aches and pains

The rash usually begins on the trunk and face and spreads to other parts of the body such as the scalp, arms, and legs. The blisters will fill with fluid and form scabs. The illness typically resolves after a week or two.

Shingles, on the other hand, usually occurs in those who had chickenpox earlier in life. Its symptoms include:

  • Pain, tingling, or burning sensation on the skin
  • Fever and chills
  • Headache
  • Upset stomach
  • Rash

The rash usually occurs on a small part of one side of the body and appears as a line of blisters which often look similar to chickenpox. The blisters will eventually burst and form scabs. The rash usually resolves after a few weeks.

How is Varicella-Zoster Virus Treated?

For those infected with chickenpox, medications to ease the symptoms of illness, such as anti-itch medicine and fever-reducing medications, are usually prescribed. Additionally, the doctor may also prescribe an antiviral medication to reduce the risk of complications from the infection.

For those infected with shingles, the doctor will usually prescribe antiviral medications to help ease the symptoms and reduce the risk of complications. In some cases, pain medications and topical agents are also prescribed to help reduce the pain and itching caused by the rash.