Varicella Zoster

What is Varicella-Zoster  

Varicella is a contagious infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. First infection causes varicella (chickenpox). Re-infection causes herpes zoster (shingles).

The Varicella-Zoster virus can be spread to people who have not had chickenpox before if they have direct contact with fluid on the blisters of someone with shingles. Most people only get Shingles once in their life. 

Shingles is more likely to occur in people: 

  • 60 years or older
  • Experiencing physical and emotional stress 
  • Who have HIV or Aids 
  • Who have had an organ transplant
  • Who have had a recent bone marrow transplant
  • Who are immunocompromised. 


Symptoms of Shingles (Zoster)  

The Varicella-Zoster virus initially causes: 

  • pain
  • burning, tingling, itching or stabbing sensation 
  • sensitivity to touch and light 
  • numbness in the affected area
  • fever and/or headache
  • fatigue 

These symptoms are followed by a painful rash within 2-3 days. 



Antiviral medicines prescribed by your doctor can help prevent complications and relieve the symptoms of shingles. Antiviral treatment should begin within 3 days of the rash appearing. 

Over-the counter medicines including paracetamol and ibuprofen can also provide pain relief. 

Other ways to manage shingles include: 

  • Keep the rash clean and dry 
  • Cover the rash with a non-stick dressing to avoid spreading the virus 
  • Do not use antibiotic creams as they may slow the healing process 
  • Avoid scratching the rash to prevent infection and scarring 
  • Wear loose cotton clothes around infected areas 
  • Cool compresses may help with itch and discomfort
  • Do not share towels or go swimming 
  • Wash your hands often 



The best protection against Shingles is vaccination. 

The 'Shingrix' vaccination is usually given as a 2 dose vaccination. It will not guarantee that you will not get shingles, but will reduce your chance of developing the disease. 


Shingrix Vaccination 

Shingrix does not contain any live varicella zoster virus, so will not give you the disease. 

Can I get the vaccination if I'm pregnant? The Shingrix vaccine is recommended either: 

  • before a planned pregnancy, or
  • as soon as practicable after delivery 


Adverse Effects of Vaccination 

Side effects after Shginrix vaccination are minor and temporary. Some may experience: 

  • pain at the injection site 
  • fever 
  • fatigue 
  • headache 








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