Immunity Status - Varicella Virus

Checks for immunity to the varicella virus that causes chickenpox and shingles.

PLEASE NOTE: ALL RESULTS AND INFORMATION PROVIDED BY HEALTH eLABS ARE INTENDED FOR GENERAL HEALTH INFORMATION PURPOSES ONLY. AS SUCH THEY ARE NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL ADVICE OR A MEDICAL EXAMINATION, AND SHOULD NOT BE USED TO DIAGNOSE, TREAT, PREVENT OR CURE ANY DISEASE, SYNDROME, OR CONDITION WITHOUT THE SUPERVISION OF A LICENSED PHYSICIAN.

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PREPARATION: No fasting or other special preparation is needed for this test.

What does this test do?

This test checks for immunity to the varicella virus that causes chickenpox and shingles.

Why is this important?

The varicella virus is highly contagious, and is easily transmitted from person to person through the air by coughing, sneezing, and other airborne methods. It causes two distinct diseases in humans:

Chickenpox is a common childhood disease that usually manifests as a short-lived, itchy skin rash associated with fever and fatigue. The disease can be serious, however, especially in young infants and adults, and can lead to pneumonia, brain damage, and even death. In fact, thousands of people in the United States are hospitalized for chickenpox each year, and nearly 100 people die as a result from complications of the disease.

The varicella virus can also cause another disease later in life, called shingles. Shingles is characterized by an extremely painful rash that only affects one particular area on one side of the body. It often leads to chronic, debilitating pain (called post-herpetic neuralgia) in the area affected by the rash, and can lead to permanent damage of the cornea if the eye has been affected (a condition called herpes zoster ophthalmicus).

In recent years, the chickenpox disease has become less prevalent in the U.S. due to efforts to vaccinate young children against infection with the varicella virus. Likewise, adults can be immunized with a highly concentrated form of the varicella vaccine (e.g. Zostavax) in an effort to help prevent shingles.

Both types of the varicella vaccine work to stimulate the production of antibodies, which are molecules that help the immune system target and destroy the viruses when they try to enter the body. As long as these antibodies circulate in the bloodstream in sufficient quantities, the likelihood of a varicella virus infection stays low.

As people get older though the immune system ages too, and sometimes adults stop producing antibodies to the varicella virus. Treatment with drugs that suppress the immune system can also cause a reduction in immunity. If this happens, then there is an increased risk of coming down with shingles, which happens when dormant varicella virus still in the body gets reactivated.

What do the results mean?

This test determines the presence of antibodies to the varicella virus circulating in the bloodstream. In other words if you have had the chickenpox or shingles in the past, or if you’ve been immunized against varicella, then you should have antibodies to the virus and a positive result indicates ongoing protection.

A negative result means that you do not have a significant number of the expected antibodies, and you are no longer immune to the varicella virus. If this is the case you should talk to your doctor about what the results mean, as well as the pros and cons of getting vaccinated.