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What is the Herpes Zoster Virus?

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  • Written By: Carol Francois
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 29 August 2016
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The herpes zoster virus cause of chicken pox, a common childhood disease that is marked with red, itchy sores, fever, and pain. This virus is transmitted by skin contact and is very contagious. It is quite common for one child to spread the herpes simplex virus to an entire class of other children, simply through skin contact.

Once the initial chicken pox infection passes, the virus remains dormant in the body. The herpes zoster virus is not the same as herpes simplex. They belong to the same family of viruses, but have different properties and are spread with different methods. Herpes simplex is the virus responsible for cold sores.

Herpes zoster is also known as shingles. This illness can occur in children, but is most frequently found in adults over 50 years of age. The symptoms of shingles include a red rash on one side of the body, fever and a headache. Many people report burning, itching, or tingling that is limited to a specific area and only on one side of the body.

The rash develops into a group of blisters, which last at least three weeks. These blisters are initially clear, and then turn yellow or bloody. A crusty scab develops and then the sores heal over the next two weeks. Herpes zoster virus sores are quite painful, and may require prescription pain medication to manage properly.

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The most common locations for this type of rash are the trunk and buttocks. If the rash appears anywhere near your eyes, see your doctor immediately. This virus can cause permanent vision damage if untreated. Approximately 20% of adults who had chicken pox will develop herpes zoster. There is no clear list of the triggers for the recurrence of this virus, but it is more common in people with compromised immune systems, high stress levels, or other serious illnesses.

The virus is contagious only by direct contact with a broken blister. Newborn babies and people with decreased immunity have the highest risk. If the virus is spread, the newly infected person develops chicken pox, not shingles. It is not possible to have chicken pox twice, as the virus remains in the body.

Dermatologists or family doctors can diagnose herpes zoster virus through a visual inspection and laboratory test of the fluid in a blister. The treatment of this infection may include oral antiviral or pain medication. Shingles rarely reoccurs and is usually resolved within two to three weeks from the initial appearance of symptoms.

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