Herpes Zoster and Chicken Pox

If you have ever suffered from chickenpox (and most people have) you are at risk of developing Herpes Zoster. Herpes Zoster(also known as shingles) is a viral infection cause by the reactivation of the dormant virus in the nerves of people who have previously had chickenpox. This can be many years after first catching chickenpox.

Chickenpox Virus

After you have had chickenpox (typically as a child) the virus that causes the chickenpox remains in your body in a group of nerve cells. Most of the time your immune system confines the chickenpox virus to these cells. Therefore herpes zoster only occurs in those who have already had chickenpox but it can occur more than once. You may have further attacks of herpes zoster, especially at times when you are run down and your immune system is challenged such as after a serious illness. These attacks may affect different parts of the body on different occasions.

Approximately 500,000 cases of herpes zoster occur in the United States alone each year and some twenty five percent of people will develop herpes zoster in their lifetime and usually when they are elderly. Occasionally, it can occur in younger men and women and especially those suffering from some form of immune deficiency. So you cannot catch herpes zoster from another person even if they have chickenpox and you can only develop it if you have already had chickenpox. It is not known what causes the reactivation of the chickenpox virus. However, ensuring that your immune system remains strong and healthy can help to prevent this virus occurring.

What to do if you have Shingles

If you are suffering from herpes zoster, you should stay away from other people until the blisters have dried (typically about seven days). The reason for this is that there are virus that’s in the blister fluid and those people who have not had chickenpox might catch chickenpox from you. Those people whose immune system might be challenged or not functioning normally are at greater risk of contracting the virus. These can include, but are not limited to people on steroids, those undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, those who have had transplant operations or those living with AIDS.

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