Chickenpox and shingles
Heinzel, Frederick P. Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of California, School of Medicine, San Francisco, California.
Last reviewed:August 2019
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Two different disease forms caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Chickenpox (also known as varicella) is a mild, highly infectious viral disease of humans caused by a herpesvirus and characterized by an itchy vesicular rash. Shingles (also termed zoster or herpes zoster) is a systemic virus infection affecting spinal nerve roots. It is characterized by vesicular eruptions distributed along the course of a cutaneous nerve and the skin surface that is supplied by the nerve. The varicella-zoster virus is a deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) virus closely related to herpes simplex and Epstein-Barr viruses. Initial infection causes chickenpox, which is a common childhood infection characterized by fever, malaise, and a rash consisting of dozens to hundreds of small fluid-filled lesions (vesicles) that are individually surrounded by reddened skin (see illustration). Successive crops of lesions appear that eventually ulcerate and crust over during the approximately two-week course of the disease. The virus is spread from person to person by the highly infectious respiratory secretions and lesion drainage. Chickenpox is rarely a serious disease in healthy children, but can be severe in immunocompromised individuals or in adults who escaped childhood infection. Primary infection results in immunity to a new varicella-zoster virus, but the original virus lies dormant in nerve ganglia cells. See also: Epstein-Barr virus; Herpes; Immunity; Immunology; Infectious disease; Nerve; Virus; Virus classification
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