Herpes Zoster (Shingles) Can Cause Severe Problems when it Causes the Eye to be Infected Herpes zoster ophthalmicus is an infection of the eye caused by varicella zoster virus. Herpes zoster ophthalmicus is the ocular involvement of an overall infection termed herpes zoster, commonly called shingles. Varicella zoster is the same virus that causes chicken pox. Once people are infected with this virus, usually by chicken pox as a child, it remains within the body in a dormant stage in the sensory ganglion (nerve roots). It is estimated that 95% of all adults harbor this virus and are therefore at risk for shingles. The risk of obtaining a herpes zoster infection during one’s lifetime is estimated at 10-20%. Estimates are that in the U.S. alone each year there are one million cases of herpes zoster. Reactivation of the Varicella Zoster Virus causes Shingles (Herpes Zoster) The varicella zoster virus can remain in the dormant stage forever or for decades but can be reactivated in some people. Reactivation of the virus is caused by a decreased immune system that can be caused by aging, HIV, high stress levels or illness. When the virus reactivates it usually spreads to the skin causing a severe rash called herpes zoster (shingles). If the varicella zoster virus spreads down the first division of the trigeminal nerve it is called herpes zoster ophthalmicus. If the forehead or nose becomes infected, the eye often becomes infected on the same side as the skin involvement. The incidence of ocular involvement of all shingles cases is estimated to be as high as 25%.
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