What is Varicella-Zoster Virus?

The varicella-zoster virus causes the common condition chickenpox when it infects a person for the first time and, if reactivated later in life, causes the painful skin condition known as shingles.

The varicella-zoster virus goes by several names, including:

Varicella-zoster is very common, and most people contract it during childhood. Varicella infections are usually not serious, but they can be uncomfortable or even painful. Further, chickenpox and shingles can both pose the risk of complications if they affect pregnant people. However, the prognosis is usually good, except in cases where the affected person has a weak immune system and in otherwise healthy people, the conditions of chickenpox and shingles usually heal without causing any long-term problems.

Good to know: The terminology used to refer to the conditions caused by the varicella-zoster virus or HHV-3, can be confusing for non-medical professionals. It may be helpful to keep in mind that the terms varicella-zoster or varicella refer to chickenpox, while the term herpes zoster usually refers to shingles.

Chickenpox: varicella zoster

Although chickenpox is a common disease, it is now encountered less often than it was in the past. Many countries routinely vaccinate children against it, often in combination with the vaccines against measles, mumps, and rubella.

Nevertheless, chickenpox commonly affects children, with outbreaks most often occurring at kindergartens and elementary schools. It also frequently happens that the siblings, parents, or caregivers of a child with chickenpox develop the condition, which is contagious. Adults and teenagers can contract chickenpox, particularly if they have not been vaccinated. Chickenpox can be a serious health problem for pregnant people, the immunosuppressed of any age, and sometimes unvaccinated children.

The most distinctive symptom of chickenpox is a blister-like, itchy rash. Other symptoms may include:

These three symptoms are known as a prodrome, meaning that they indicate a condition is developing, and often appear before the rash develops.

Younger children often find the symptoms of chickenpox quite mild and may only be slightly uncomfortable. Teenagers and adults tend to experience symptoms of chickenpox more severely than children do. Children, adults, and teenagers alike should not attend school or work while they have chickenpox but should stay home until the rash has completely crusted over.

Chickenpox usually resolves within five to ten days. Complications can develop, but these are not common. Potential complications include pneumonia, secondary bacterial infections, and, rarely, encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain. The outlook in cases of chickenpox is usually good, and most people recover without any particular treatment.

Read more about Chickenpox »

Shingles: herpes zoster

While chickenpox commonly affects children, shingles are far more common among older adults. The primary symptom of shingles is a painful, blistering rash affecting one side of the face, trunk, or a single limb.

After the primary varicella-zoster infection, or chickenpox has resolved, the varicella virus remains in the body for life. It is usually inactive, but it can be reactivated later in life by stress or illness, especially conditions that lead to a weakened or suppressed immune system, such as cancer, organ transplants, or advanced age. It is only possible to develop shingles if you have had chickenpox.

When the virus reactivates, it travels up the nerve in which it has lain dormant to the surface of the skin, where it causes painful lesions. These are usually restricted to an area of the skin served by a particular nerve, known as a dermatome. The rash is therefore usually restricted to one particular area of the body and is usually unilateral rather than bilateral.

Learn more about the Signs of Shingles »

Shingles are very uncomfortable and may become complicated in some cases, especially if it affects the ears or eyes or if a secondary bacterial infection affects the lesions.

Shingles are treated with antivirals and pain-management medications, and most people recover well within two weeks. Some, however, experience ongoing pain and discomfort in the affected area; this is known as post-herpetic neuralgia.

Learn more about Shingles »

**What is the Varicella-Zoster Virus (VZV)?**

**Question: ⁢What is⁤ the Varicella-Zoster Virus (VZV)?**

**Answer:** The⁢ Varicella-Zoster Virus (VZV) is a member of the herpesvirus family that ‌causes ⁤two distinct disorders: chickenpox ⁣(varicella) ​and shingles (herpes zoster). VZV⁤ is highly contagious and affects individuals of all ages, causing characteristic skin rashes with blisters.

**How is ⁤VZV Transmitted?**

**Question: How⁤ is ⁣VZV Transmitted?**

**Answer:** VZV is primarily transmitted through direct contact with an infected person’s respiratory⁢ droplets⁣ or by⁢ contact with their blisters.⁢ It can also be spread indirectly through contamination of objects or surfaces.

**Symptoms of Varicella (Chickenpox)**

**Question: What⁣ are the symptoms of Varicella (Chickenpox)?**

**Answer:** Varicella typically ⁤begins with​ a fever, fatigue, and headache. A distinctive rash appears after 1-2 days, starting as small, reddish bumps that progress to clear-filled ‌blisters. The blisters eventually crust over and fall off, leaving ⁤behind pink or brown​ spots.

**Shingles (Herpes Zoster)**

**Question: What is Shingles (Herpes ⁤Zoster)?**

**Answer:**⁣ Shingles is ⁢a painful reactivation of VZV‌ that occurs in individuals who have had ⁢chickenpox previously. The virus lies dormant in nerve cells after an initial infection and can reactivate decades later. Shingles⁣ usually⁤ causes a painful, blistering rash on one side of the body, along with fever,⁤ chills, and nerve pain.

**VZV⁤ Vaccination**

**Question: How can I prevent VZV infection?**

**Answer:** ​VZV can be⁣ prevented by vaccination. ⁣Two doses of the varicella ‍vaccine​ are recommended ⁢for ⁣children ⁢and adults who have not had chickenpox. Vaccination is highly effective in preventing both chickenpox and shingles.

**Treatment for VZV**

**Question: How is VZV ​treated?**

**Answer:** Treatment‌ for VZV depends on ⁤the ⁣severity of the infection. Antiviral medications⁢ can be prescribed to ⁤reduce symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness. Chickenpox usually resolves within‌ 7-10 days, while shingles ‍can take several weeks to ⁤heal.


The Varicella-Zoster Virus (VZV) is a⁣ common virus that causes chickenpox and shingles. Understanding the transmission, symptoms, and prevention of VZV is crucial for reducing the ‌impact of these infections. Vaccination remains the most effective ‍means of preventing both diseases.


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