What is disseminated herpes zoster (shingles)?

Updated: Feb 11, 2021
  • Author: Camila K Janniger, MD; Chief Editor: Dirk M Elston, MD  more...
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Disseminated herpes zoster is usually defined as a generalized eruption of more than 10-12 extradermatomal vesicles occurring 7-14 days after the onset of classic dermatomal herpes zoster. Typically, it is clinically indistinguishable from varicella (chickenpox). Dissemination occurs in approximately 2% of zoster cases in the general population but has been observed in as many as 35% of patients who are hospitalized or immunocompromised.

Dissemination often is an indication of depressed cell-mediated immunity caused by various underlying clinical situations, including malignancies, radiation therapy, cancer chemotherapy, organ transplants, and long-term use of systemic corticosteroids (short-term use of low-to-moderate doses of corticosteroids does not increase the incidence of dissemination). Patients in whom zoster has disseminated must be observed carefully for the development of pneumonitis and encephalitis, which can be life-threatening.

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