Yes Jeane, Chickenpox is one form of a Herpes Virus. Most of us are familiar with the 2 sexually transmitted types of Herpes: Type 1 (oral herpes) and type 2 (genital herpes). But actually, there are over 25 known viruses that fall into the Herpes’ family. Known as Herpesviridae, they are divided into three sub-families, Alphaherpesvirinae, Betaherpesvirinae, and Gammaherpesvirinae. Only 8 are known to infect humans.
Chickenpox is caused by a Herpes virus called Varicella. It can also be called Varicella-Zoster or Human Herpes Virus-3. This is because the Vericella Virus can lay dormant in your nerve roots and then cause the Zoster virus (shingles) later in life. This later infection can also be called the Herpes Zoster Virus.
I know what you’re thinking! Why so many names? The answer involves how specific your doctor is when diagnosing the symptoms you have.
Let’s break it down; Chickenpox is caused by the Varicella virus. Like all Herpes viruses, it causes itchy papulae (rash or blisters) to appear. Chickenpox mainly shows up on the face, scalp, and trunk, with a small amount presenting on the limbs. This virus can re-appear later in life and is then known as the Varicella-Zoster Virus. Zoster, meaning belt or girdle, is more an explanation of where the rash appears- most commonly around the trunk- it’s merely a reactivation of the Vericella Virus.
Depending on your Doctor, he may diagnose the Varicella virus if you’re young and have never presented with an infection of this type before. He may also diagnose you with the Vericella-Zoster virus if you are older and have had Chickenpox in the past. If you present with the symptoms of the virus and only have a rash that presents with papulae around your trunk, he may just say you have the Zoster Virus. If your doctor is one that goes the extra mile, he could take a sample of your rash and have it tested. This will tell him exactly what virus is present and give him the opportunity for a more specific diagnosis.
No matter what you are diagnosed with, the problem is still the same. A type of herpes virus has infected you, and the result is itchy, burning lesions on your skin that make you want to scratch like a methamphetamine addict!
In case you were interested, once a person is infected by a Herpes virus, the infection will remain for life. It doesn’t matter the type; once the initial infection heals, the virus itself will lay dormant in the nuclei of peripheral nerves, held there by specific antibodies in a person’s immune system. Once an infected person has their immune system stressed, or they become immunocompromised, the virus will “travel” down the nerve and a reddened area will give rise to a blister that is full of the live virus. The biggest difference between all types of herpes is where the blister forms and the specific virus that caused it. The 8 known common names for Herpes viruses that can infect humans, are:
- Type 1- Oral Herpes (HSV-1)
- Type 2- Genital Herpes (HSV-2)
- Type 3- Chicken Pox and Shingles (HHV-3)
- Type 4- Epstein Barr virus (EBV) Can cause Mononucleosis (The kissing disease)
- Type 5- Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Can also cause Mononucleosis
- Type 6 and 7- Roseolovirus (HHV-6a and HHV-6B and HHV-7)
- Type 8- Kapasi’s Sarcoma (KSHV)
Bonus Chicken Pox Facts:
- More than 90% of the US population has been infected by the Chicken Pox. It’s spread by direct contact with ruptured skin blisters or respiratory droplets coming into contact with mucus membranes. It has an extremely high infectious rate. Of those who have not been vaccinated, 90% who occupy the same household as an infected patient will get the disease.
- The average time between infection and the presence of a rash, or virus in respiratory droplets, is between 10-23 days, most commonly about 2 weeks. This makes a person’s contagious period starting around 12 days and lasting until all the papulae have scabbed over, usually about 4-5 days.
- The average number of blisters on a person infected with chickenpox is 300-400.
- There are about 5,000-9,000 hospitalizations every year as a result of chicken pox. Approximately 100 of those result in death.
- A vaccine for the Vericella virus has been available since March 1995. Around 6 million doses have been given so far. It is recommended all children be vaccinated between 12 and 18 months.
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