Varicella Zoster Virus, or VZV, is the causative agent of a common childhood malady known as Chicken Pox. It typically affects children in the age range of four to ten years. Infection by VZV is rarely lethal but causes a rash of fluid filled blisters on the skin. Although it generally affects children, it can also cause infection in adults. Adults who have not had chickenpox during their youth or have not been vaccinated are urged to gain immunity to VZV by vaccination, as the virus is more serious during adult years.

Varicella Zoster Virus is highly contagious. It can be spread by contact with the blisters covering the skin even when they scab in the final stages. The virus is also airborne and can be spread by close contact when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Infection goes through a series of stages when it is most contagious. The first stage is ten to twenty one days following an infection and the human host shows no symptoms. The virus starts to breakout, multiply, and the host may feel nauseous and have a slight fever. The virus is contagious during this stage. In approximately two days small fluid filled blisters begin to form on the skin. Generally the blisters start on the face and scalp and eventually cover the body. After several days the blisters will form a scab and eventually disappear until the infection is gone. Once the body has been infected, it will have immunity to future infections except in rare cases.

Once a child has developed Chicken Pox the best method of treatment is to help to make the child comfortable. An oatmeal bath in warm water can help relieve some of the itchy effects of the blisters and help prevent scratching. Children should not be given aspirin or ibuprofen since both may cause more serious secondary problems. Acetaminophen, however, is okay to help with fever. Children with Chicken Pox should remain at home and avoid contact with others, as they will be very contagious.

A more serious condition can develop in adults who become infected. Varicella infection in adults causes suppression of the immune system and this can lead to a secondary infection particularly from bacteria. Chicken Pox in adults has been associated with secondary diseases such as pneumonia or encephalitis. Infected adults may also have high fever, severe coughing, dizziness, muscle tremors and other symptoms. Adults suspecting they have been infected with Varicella should seek medical assistance as vaccination before the breaking-out period can reduce the severity of the symptoms.

Pregnant women who become infected may have some concern whether the virus can cause problems with the child. Generally women who had Chicken Pox as a childhood disease provide protection to the unborn through transmitting antibodies. Women who have not developed immunity through disease or vaccination are at risk for passing Varicella to the child. It can cause problems in development including potential birth defects.

Shingles is a secondary disease caused in later adult years from persons previously infected with Varicella Zoster Virus. Although childhood infection causes immunity, the virus may become latent in the body. It doesn't disappear entirely. Shingles generally occurs in older adults particularly sixty years and above. Symptoms are similar to Chicken Pox and the infected person develops a rash of fluid filled blisters accompanied with fever, chills and upset stomach. It can occur in any person who has previously had Chicken Pox. Unlike Chicken Pox, however, shingles is not highly contagious unless you have blisters or during the first stages of the rash outbreak..

Chicken Pox or Varicella is a very common disease that can infect anyone who comes into close contact with another infected person. Although it is relatively harmless for most people, it does cause several days of discomfort. Common sense treatment such as oatmeal baths and acetaminophen can provide some relief but the human body will do the work providing immunity. Infected persons should avoid unnecessary contact with uninfected people. It is recommended that older children and adults without the natural immunity should be vaccinated to avoid complications associated with adult Chicken Pox.