There are eight herpes viruses that infect humans, causing a wide range of diseases resulting in considerable morbidity and associated costs. Varicella zoster virus (VZV) is a human herpes virus that causes chickenpox in children and shingles in adults. Approximately 1,000,000 new cases of shingles occur each year; post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) follows shingles in 100,000 to 200,000 people annually. PHN is characterized by debilitating, nearly unbearable pain for weeks, months, and even years. The onset of shingles is characterized by pain, followed by the zoster rash, leading to blisters and severe pain. The problem is that in the early stages, shingles can be difficult to diagnose; chickenpox in adults can be equally difficult to diagnose. As a result, both diseases can be misdiagnosed (false positive/negative).

A molecular assay has been adapted for use in diagnosing VZV diseases. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay is a non-invasive, rapid, sensitive, and highly specific method for VZV DNA detection. It provides unequivocal results and can effectively end misdiagnoses. This is an approximately two-hour assay that allows unequivocal diagnosis and rapid antiviral drug intervention. It has been demonstrated that rapid intervention can prevent full development of the disease, resulting in reduced likelihood of PHN. The technology was extended to shingles patients and demonstrated that VZV is shed in saliva and blood of all shingles patients. The amount of VZV in saliva parallels the medical outcome.

This work was done by Duane Pierson of Johnson Space Center, and Satish Mehta of Enterprise Advisory Services, Inc. For further information, contact the JSC Innovation Partnerships Office at (281) 483-3809. MSC-25009-1