Chickenpox - Prognosis

Most cases of chickenpox last about a week without causing lasting harm. One long-term effect of chickenpox is seen in about 20 percent of the population, however. This effect occurs most often in people over the age of fifty, and is the disease known as shingles. Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a chickenpox infection has disappeared, the virus may remain in a person's body. At some time later in life, the virus may once again become active. It produces a new form of infection—shingles.

Shingles is a very painful inflammation of the nerves caused by the chickenpox virus. It is accompanied by a rash that covers the trunk of the body (the part of the body that does not include the arms, legs, or head) and the face for ten days or more. In some cases, the pain caused by shingles can last for months and even years.

In 1998 two new drugs for the treatment of shingles were introduced. They are valacyclovir (trade name Valtrex) and famciclovir (trade name Famvir). Both prevent the virus from reproducing if taken within seventy-two hours after the rash first appears. Certain restrictions apply to the use of both drugs.

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