Sydney is a contributing health writer and editor who enjoys shedding light on health topics, making information available to anyone who wants it, and ending stigmas or lack of access to care and treatment.
Po-Chang Hsu, M.D.
Dr. Hsu received his medical degree from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, and holds a Master’s of Science degree from both Harvard University and Tufts University. Outside of the medical profession, Dr. Hsu loves to write, learn new languages, and travel.
April 15, 2021
The varicella-zoster virus, also called VZV, is more commonly known for the two things that it causes: chickenpox and shingles (herpes zoster). It is one of the nine herpesviruses that can infect humans.
Through our partner site PlushCare you can make an appointment with a licensed doctor online and get the diagnosis, treatment, and prescriptions for shingles pain management.
The whole family of herpesviruses uses DNA rather than RNA, like most other viruses, as their infectant genetic material.
The varicella-zoster virus remains inside of its host cells after the initial stages of the virus go away. Then they can reactivate later, causing the well-known sequence of childhood chickenpox and adulthood shingles.
The varicella-zoster virus causes chickenpox 10 to 21 days after exposure. Chickenpox is a skin infection that turns into a very itch rash with bumps on your skin filled with fluid, which lasts for about ten days.
If your child complains about feeling tired and sick, having fevers and headaches, and losing appetite, they may have been exposed to the varicella-zoster virus. What follows is the three stages of visual chickenpox symptoms:
Once the first wave of bumps is over, new ones might arise, and you might be dealing with all three stages of chickenpox at the same time. For the first 48 hours of chickenpox, you are contagious and can spread it to other people. It will continue to be contagious until the blisters crust over.
A doctor will prescribe medications for you to treat your child’s chickenpox and any other symptoms that arise, and soon the body will heal itself, but the VZV will remain in the child’s body for the rest of their life.
If you believe your child has chickenpox, you can make a same-day appointment with our partner, PlushCare, and speak to a doctor about chickenpox treatment and pain management.
Chickenpox is spread by making contact with people who have chickenpox, through direct contact with their:
Coughing and sneezing from someone with an active infection can also transmit the varicella-zoster virus.
The shingles virus (herpes zoster) is the secondary activation of VZV. Once you overcome the chickenpox, the virus will lie dormant in your body in nerves, including:
For most people, that is where it stays, but for a select few, it reawakens into the shingles virus.
Much like chickenpox, shingles cause blisters filled with fluid and a large rash, but this time, instead of being itchy, it is far more painful.
The shingles rash can appear on your body anywhere, and according to Mayo Clinic, “[the varicella-zoster virus] can reactivate and travel along nerve endings in your skin.” They elaborate, “The reason for shingles is unclear. But it may be due to lowered immunity to infections as you grow older. Shingles are more common in older adults and in people who have weakened immune systems.”
Both of these are outbreaks caused by the varicella-zoster virus. If you had chickenpox when you were younger, there is a chance the virus can reactivate and give you shingles. Aside from taking one of two vaccines to prevent the virus from awakening, you don’t have any control over its reawakening.
Shingles follow the same steps as chickenpox, except it lasts longer. You are still contagious for the first 48 hours, and also contagious to anyone exposed to the fluid in the blisters. If someone who is not immune to chickenpox gets in contact with you, they will get chickenpox, not shingles.
Shingles are common in people over 50 years old, those with weakened immune systems, and people dealing with other illnesses.
You can receive a vaccine to prevent yourself from getting shingles if you have received chickenpox, but it doesn’t work for those already suffering from the infection.
If you believe you have a herpes zoster outbreak, doctors can prescribe:
There are vaccines for both chickenpox and shingles, and avoiding contact with people who have either stage of the virus is one of the best ways to ensure that you don’t get it yourself.
For chickenpox, try to avoid scratching and irritating the infected skin. Using certain lotions and medications can help to deal with the itches, as well as using hot water and cold compresses.
The pain of shingles can be dealt with the same way. Then for both stages, it is a waiting game to outlast the virus’ outbreak.
Shingles and chickenpox, while frustrating and certainly annoying to deal with, aren’t life-threatening in most cases.
While chickenpox usually passes through children’s systems without long-term effects, the shingles occurrence of the varicella-zoster virus can be more dangerous. Some complications that might happen if shingles are contracted include:
These complications commonly occur in elderly people and others with compromised immune systems. Because of these complications, if you are an at-risk person, it’s a good idea to get the shingles vaccine when you are eligible.
Whether you’re experiencing chickenpox or shingles (herpes zoster), you can get the diagnosis, treatment, and prescriptions online from doctors on PlushCare.
Making an appointment is easy, fast, and reliable. When you’re in pain due to a virus-like VZV, PlushCare provides accessible health care from the comfort of your home.
Click here to make an appointment with a PlushCare doctor online.
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