URL of this page: https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/chickenpox-and-shingles-tests/

Chickenpox and Shingles Tests

What are chickenpox and shingles tests?

These tests check to see if you are or have ever been infected with the varicella zoster virus (VZV). This virus causes chickenpox and shingles. When you are first infected with VZV, you get chickenpox. Once you get chickenpox, you can't get it again. The virus remains in your nervous system but is dormant (inactive). Later in life, VZV can become active and can cause shingles. Unlike chicken pox, you can get shingles more than once, but it is rare.

Both chickenpox and shingles cause blistering skin rashes. Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease that causes red, itchy sores (pox) all over the body. It used to be a very common childhood disease, infecting nearly all children in the United States. But since a chickenpox vaccine was introduced in 1995, there have been far fewer cases. Chickenpox may be uncomfortable, but it's usually a mild illness in healthy children. But it can be serious for adults, pregnant women, newborns, and people with weakened immune systems.

Shingles is a disease that only affects people who once had chickenpox. It causes a painful, burning rash that may stay in one part of the body or spread to many parts of the body. Nearly one-third of people in the United States will get shingles at some point in their lifetime, most often after the age of 50. Most people who develop shingles recover in three to five weeks, but it sometimes causes long-term pain and other health problems.

Other names: varicella zoster virus antibody, serum varicella immunoglobulin G antibody level, VZV antibodies IgG and IgM, herpes zoster

What are they used for?

Health care providers can usually diagnose chickenpox or shingles with a visual examination. Tests are sometimes ordered to check for immunity to the varicella zoster virus (VZV). You have immunity if you've had chickenpox before or have had the chickenpox vaccine. If you have immunity it means you can't get chickenpox, but you can still get shingles later in life.

Tests may be done on people who don't have or are unsure about immunity and are at higher risk of complications from VZV. These include:

  • Pregnant women
  • Newborns, if the mother is infected
  • Teen and adults with symptoms of chickenpox
  • People with HIV/AIDS or another condition that weakens the immune system

Why do I need a chickenpox or shingles test?

You may need a chickenpox or shingles test if you are at risk for complications, are not immune to VZV, and/or have symptoms of infection. Symptoms of the two diseases are similar and include:

  • Red, blistering rash. Chickenpox rashes often appear all over the body and are usually very itchy. Shingles sometimes appear in just one area and are often painful.
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Sore throat

You may also need this test if you are in a high-risk group and were recently exposed to chickenpox or shingles. You can't catch shingles from another person. But the shingles virus (VZV) can be spread and cause chickenpox in someone who doesn't have immunity.

What happens during chickenpox and shingles testing?

You will need to provide a sample of blood from your vein or from the fluid in one of your blisters. Blood tests check for antibodies to the VZV. Blister tests check for the virus itself.

For a blood test from a vein, a health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out.

For a blister test, a health care provider will gently press a cotton swab on a blister to collect a sample of fluid for testing.

Both types of tests are quick, usually taking less than five minutes.

Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?

You don't any special preparations for a blood or blister test.

Are there any risks to the test?

After a blood test, you may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly. There is no risk to having a blister test.

What do the results mean?

If you have symptoms and results show VZV antibodies or the virus itself, it's likely you have chickenpox or shingles. Your diagnosis of either chickenpox or shingles will depend on your age and specific symptoms. If your results show antibodies or the virus itself and you don't have symptoms, you either once had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine.

If you are diagnosed with an infection and are in a high-risk group, your health care provider may prescribe antiviral medicines. Early treatment can prevent serious and painful complications.

Most healthy children and adults with chickenpox will recover from chickenpox within a week or two. Home treatment can help relieve symptoms. More serious cases may be treated with antiviral medicines. Shingles may also be treated with antiviral medicines as well as pain relievers.

If you have questions about your results or your child's results, talk to your health care provider.

Is there anything else I need to know about chickenpox and shingles tests?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the chickenpox vaccine for children, teens, and adults who never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine. Some schools require this vaccine for admittance. Check with your child's school and your child's health care provider for more information.

The CDC also recommends that healthy adults age 50 and older get a shingles vaccine even if they've already had shingles. The vaccine can prevent you from having another outbreak. There are currently two types of shingles vaccines available. To learn more about these vaccines, talk to your health care provider.

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Internet]. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; About Chickenpox; [cited 2019 Oct 23]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/chickenpox/about/index.html
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Internet]. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Chickenpox Vaccination: What Everyone Should Know; [cited 2019 Oct 23]; [about 4 screens]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/varicella/public/index.html
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Internet]. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Shingles: Transmission; [cited 2019 Oct 23]; [about 4 screens]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/transmission.html
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Internet]. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; What Everyone Should Know About Shingles Vaccines; [cited 2019 Oct 23]; [about 4 screens]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/shingles/public/index.html
  5. Cleveland Clinic [Internet]. Cleveland (OH): Cleveland Clinic; c2019. Chickenpox: Overview; [cited 2019 Oct 23]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4017-chickenpox
  6. Cleveland Clinic [Internet]. Cleveland (OH): Cleveland Clinic; c2019. Shingles: Overview; [cited 2019 Oct 23]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/11036-shingles
  7. Familydoctor.org [Internet]. Leawood (KS): American Academy of Family Physicians; c2019. Chickenpox; [updated 2018 Nov 3; cited 2019 Oct 23]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://familydoctor.org/condition/chickenpox
  8. Familydoctor.org [Internet]. Leawood (KS): American Academy of Family Physicians; c2019. Shingles; [updated 2017 Sep 5; cited 2019 Oct 23]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://familydoctor.org/condition/shingles
  9. Kids Health from Nemours [Internet]. Jacksonville (FL): The Nemours Foundation; c1995–2019. Shingles; [cited 2019 Oct 23]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/shingles.html
  10. Lab Tests Online [Internet]. Washington D.C.: American Association for Clinical Chemistry; c2001–2019. Chickenpox and Shingles Tests; [updated 2019 Jul 24; cited 2019 Oct 23]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://labtestsonline.org/tests/chickenpox-and-shingles-tests
  11. Merck Manual Consumer Version [Internet]. Kenilworth (NJ): Merck & Co., Inc.; c2019. Chickenpox; [updated 2018 May; cited 2019 Oct 23]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/infections/herpesvirus-infections/chickenpox
  12. University of Rochester Medical Center [Internet]. Rochester (NY): University of Rochester Medical Center; c2019. Health Encyclopedia: Varicella-Zoster Virus Antibody; [cited 2019 Oct 23]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=167&contentid=varicella_zoster_antibody
  13. UW Health [Internet]. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; c2019. Health Information: Chickenpox (Varicella): Exams and Tests; [updated 2018 Dec 12; cited 2019 Oct 23]; [about 9 screens]. Available from: https://www.uwhealth.org/health/topic/major/chickenpox-varicella/hw208307.html#hw208406
  14. UW Health [Internet]. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; c2019. Health Information: Chickenpox (Varicella): Topic Overview; [updated 2018 Dec 12; cited 2019 Oct 23]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.uwhealth.org/health/topic/major/chickenpox-varicella/hw208307.html
  15. UW Health [Internet]. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; c2019. Health Information: Herpes Tests: How It Is Done; [updated 2018 Sep 11; cited 2019 Oct 23]; [about 5 screens]. Available from: https://www.uwhealth.org/health/topic/medicaltest/herpes-tests/hw264763.html#hw264785
  16. UW Health [Internet]. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; c2019. Health Information: Shingles: Exams and Tests; [updated 2019 Jun 9; cited 2019 Oct 23]; [about 9 screens]. Available from: https://www.uwhealth.org/health/topic/major/shingles/hw75433.html#aa29674
  17. UW Health [Internet]. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; c2019. Health Information: Shingles: Topic Overview; [updated 2019 Jun 9; cited 2019 Oct 23]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.uwhealth.org/health/topic/major/shingles/hw75433.html#hw75435

The medical information provided is for informational purposes only, and is not to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please contact your health care provider with questions you may have regarding medical conditions or the interpretation of test results.

In the event of a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.