Varicella-zoster virus (VZV) is the cause of varicella, the most common exanthematous disease of childhood. After the acute infection, VZV remains latent in the dorsal root ganglia; reactivation of the virus causes zoster. Because of its unique clinical appearance, zoster has been known and described since antiquity. Varicella, on the other hand, often was confused with smallpox. It was not until near the middle of this century that varicella and zoster were documented conclusively to be caused by the same etiologic agent. The origin of the common name “chickenpox” is the subject of some debate. Most probably, it derives from the Old English word“gican,” which means “itch,” and is pronounced with a soft g.

VZV is ubiquitous, and humans are the only known host. It is estimated that there are 4 million cases per year in the United States, of which 90%occur in children between the ages of 1 and...

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