The chicken pox is caused by a viral infection. Specifically, this viral infection is caused by the Varicella zoster virus, also known as the Herpes zoster virus. Chicken pox is highly contagious, especially after initial infection, through both transmission by air and physical contact. After signs and symptoms have subsided, the Varicella zoster virus is located in a dormant state within the body. Varicella zoster is an efficient virus. It has the ability to remain dormant for months, even years, watching and waiting for conditions to arise suitable for reactivation of infection; shingles.
Shingles is the condition caused by the reactivation of the Varicella zoster virus. It is not possible to develop shingles without first contracting chicken pox. In healthy individuals, shingles is not typically life threatening, but is accompanied by pain and is contagious. It is a common misunderstanding that shingles is not contagious. Shingles symptoms include the development of a red rash and blisters filled with fluid. This fluid is highly contagious. However, physical contact is required for transmission.
The Varicella zoster virus is cause for both chicken pox and shingles. The Varicella zoster virus is common in the United States, effecting approximately 5 people in 1000 for the total population. The values change based on location and population statistics. It is a highly effective virus, containing ribonucleic acid (RNA) and all necessary components for high infection rates.
Shingles is caused by the once dormant Varicella zoster virus reactivation. The Varicella zoster can remain dormant within the biological systems, usually in spinal nerve cells, of the body for years before reactivation occurs. It is most commonly reactivated due to immune system suppression. Currently, there are no known reasons for the reactivation, however, there do exist strong correlations between outbreaks and certain conditions listed below. There is also no scientific evident linking why certain individuals develop shingles outbreaks and others do not.
When inactive (dormant), the Varicella zoster virus is located within spinal nerve cells. Spinal nerves are paired, one on each side of the spinal cord. Each spinal nerve is responsible for a small specific area of the body, on the side that the nerve is located. This is why the typical outbreak of shingles is commonly localized to one banded area including a red rash and blisters, as the Varicella zoster reactivation only affects one spinal nerve.
There are a variety of treatment options currently available to decrease overall signs and symptoms. A vaccination is also available to decrease overall outbreak rates along with symptoms. The following are usually utilized in combinations for the most effective use and several must be prescribed by a physician for use.