All About The Varicella Zoster Virus

Varicella zoster is a virus known to cause chicken pox in children and herpes zoster infection which is also known as shingles in adults. It is one of the types of herpes virus.

Alternative names if this virus are:

  • ·         chickenpox virus
  • ·         varicella virus
  • ·         HHV 3 (human herpes virus type 3)

Primary type of varicella zoster infection causes chickenpox in children. Children worldwide suffer from this type of varicella zoster infection. It affects children mainly in the age group of 5-10 years of age. Generally after suffering from this primary type of varicella zoster infection, lifelong immunity to chicken pox develops.

Sometimes this virus remains in its inactive stage in the nerve ganglion and the infection may recur and present in the form of painful rash. This rash is shingles. Shingles is a common infection in adults caused by varicella zoster virus. The spread of this virus is mainly due to direct person to person contact or through droplets. However the airbourne transmission through droplets is rare.

Chickenpox is a highly contagious infection in children. The incubation for the virus in its primary stage is about 10-20 days.

Clinical presentation of chickenpox:

Mild form of prodromal symptoms is seen for the first 1-2 days before the onset of chickenpox. A typical rash develops on the trunk area. There is a sequence in how the rash develops. First the affected site appears as a red macular lesion. Gradually it starts developing into a papule and a vesicle eventually forming a crusted lesion. Commonly this infection affects the mucous membrane hence at times it is difficult to distinguish insect bite lesion from a chickenpox lesion caused by varicella zoster virus. The lesion may be pruritic in nature.

Generally when this type of varicella zoster infection affects children systemic symptoms are very mild since it’s a self limiting condition in children. When the same occurs in adults it may show severe systemic symptoms such as high fever and sometimes pneumonia.

When pregnant women suffer from varicella zoster infection anytime in the first two trimesters of pregnancy, there is a high chance of the baby to have eye problems such as scarring, cataract, limb abnormalities at times. This is because of the congenital varicella zoster infection.

Clinical presentation of shingles:

When a person suffers from shingles, the lesions are concentrated mainly on the trunk. These rashes are pruritic in nature but rarely painful. Shingles in adults occurs due to the reactivation of the varicella zoster virus infection which remains in its latent stage in the nerve ganglion. The reason for its reactivation still remains unknown.

Treatment of varicella zoster infections:

Antipruritics such as calamine lotion are prescribed to the patient for its soothing effect.

Suffering individuals are sometimes prescribed acyclovir.

In case of a high fever the doctor may prescribe you antipyretic such as ibuprofen. Sometimes the person suffering from varicella zoster infection appears to be very dehydrated. In such cases, IV fluids are given to hydrate the patient.

Sometimes if the individual suffers from a secondary form of bacterial infection, he is prescribed an antibacterial to cure this kind of infection.

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