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article imageInsight into how dormant chicken pox causes shingles

By Tim Sandle     Jun 14, 2015 in Science
The virus varicella-zoster causes chicken pox, a common childhood illness. A "similar" virus is responsible for shingles, which affects some adults. Both are painful red rashes. Scientists have shown a new relationship between the two.
The latest research suggests that, in some cases, the virus responsible for chicken pox remains dormant and it can then sometimes "wake up" to trigger the disease shingles (herpes zoster).
Chicken pox is a highly contagious disease, characterized by skin rash that forms small, itchy blisters, which eventually scab over. This can be accompanied by fever and headaches. After a few weeks the infection disappears. Shingles is a viral disease characterized by a painful skin rash with blisters. The viral disease — herpes zoster is due to a reactivation of varicella zoster virus that causes chicken pox - within a person's body. Unlike chicken pox, the disease is not spread between people.
In a new research project, scientists at Bar-Ilan University have successfully replicated the "sleeping" and "waking" of the varicella-zoster virus. This took place using stem cells and special fluorescent markers. The work is important because in around one-third of adults aged over 50, shingles can occur, triggered by the waking virus. This only happens with people who had chicken pox as children.
The hope is that with this new understanding a treatment could be developed to help those who are suffering from shingles. Such a treatment would attempt to return the virus to its latent (or ‘sleeping’) state. It is also hoped that further study will help to explain why some people are more at risk to shingles than others. Some theories are that people who suffer from some type of trauma or disease; or who are on immunosuppressant therapies, are the most vulnerable
The findings have been published in the journal PLOS Pathogens. The research paper is titled “An In Vitro Model of Latency and Reactivation of Varicella Zoster Virus in Human Stem Cell-Derived Neurons.”
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