Highland Travel Medicine


Varicella Zoster

 is a virus that causes infection of the nervous system in humans. Initial infection leads to Chicken Pox (Varicella). A generalized itchy rash often seen in children. This virus survives in nerve tissue for the remainder of the child's life. Reactivation of the virus termed Shingles (Zoster) occurs when the immune system is stressed, either from recent illness, chronic illness or even immunosuppressant medications (i.e. steroids). A well defined often linear rash will develop usually only on the left or right side of the body. The rash of Shinglesis a blistering rash that is painful.

People with shingles may also experince fever and headaches. If left untreated, there is a rare occurence of pneumonia, encephalitis, or death. For 20% of people who suffer from shingles chronic pain can ensue. This is called Post Herpetic Neuralgia, which can leave permanent and debilitating pain over the site of the rash. People over the age of 50years are more likely to get shingles. The rash of Shingles can spread the Varicella Zoster virus to people who have never been initially infected with Chicken Pox. Pregnant women and their fetuses are at particular risk and should avoid contact.

In 2006, a vaccine against Herpes Zoster was licensed, reducing that risk of shingles by 50%. The vaccine has also proven to be effective in reducing the pain that people experience, if they do come down with shingles. The vaccine is recommended for people over the age of 60 years. This vaccination is a live virus, so certain people are not eligible to take this immunization. Persons who are pregnant, have certain cancers, HIV/AIDS, or are allergic to gelatin or neomycin should NOT receive this vaccination. Mild side effects include redness and pain at the site. Severe reactions include high fever and allergic reaction.