Chickenpox and shingles can be serious
Chickenpox is a disease caused by the varicella zoster virus. It used to be called the herpes zoster virus because it is related to other herpesviruses. A case of chickenpox starts off as a flu-like illness, followed by an itchy rash. Before the development of the varicella vaccine, nearly everyone eventually caught chickenpox. In the United States, roughly 10,000 people per year were hospitalized because of chickenpox, and there were roughly 100 deaths per year.
Chickenpox in children is usually a relatively mild flu-like illness with an itchy rash that lasts for about a week. But in some cases, it can lead to serious or even deadly complications:
Chickenpox used to be a childhood illness. It is more dangerous if it occurs in an adult.
A case of chickenpox is particularly dangerous during pregnancy:
Once you have had a varicella infection, the virus is with you for life. Just like the herpesviruses that cause cold sores, the varicella zoster virus can flare up again, causing a painful condition called shingles. A case of shingles generally affects the area of skin served by a single nerve. An outbreak that involves an eye could lead to blindness in that eye. The shingles outbreak can damage the nerve, leading to lingering, often severe pain. This problem is called postherpetic neuralgia. Fortunately, we now have a vaccine to prevent shingles outbreaks. It is basically a booster of the chickenpox vaccine.
Photo by NIAID