Common Viruses That Cause Nerve Pain

The nervous system serves as a network of connections through which the brain sends instructions to the body and the body responds with information. When the nervous system is malfunctioning, a number of negative symptoms occur, from muscle weakness to organ dysfunction. Pain is often the first sign that there's a problem with the nervous system. Several viruses can cause neuralgia, or nerve pain.


Shingles results when a specific virus that has remained asymptomatic and dormant in the body for decades reawakens. This virus is called herpes zoster, and it is responsible for chickenpox, a disease commonly experience in childhood. explains that after the initial bout of chickenpox has healed, the virus retreats, hiding in nerve bundles near the spine. When it reawakens, most often when an individual is in her 60s, it causes a rash and pain that travels along the nerve fibers. When this pain persists for more than 30 days after the rash has faded, it is referred to as postherpetic neuralgia.

Herpes Simplex

Herpes simplex is another virus that can cause neuralgia, or nerve pain.

This virus is responsible for genital herpes and cold sores. Like the shingles virus, the herpes simplex virus stays in the body after the initial attack. It hides in nerve cells, growing down along the nerve path during, or preceding, an outbreak, and sometimes causing nerve pain in the leg and thigh, according to DermNet NZ. The virus reaches the skin, which breaks out in lesions that are characteristic of genital or oral herpes. In some cases, the herpes simplex virus can temporarily paralyze the facial muscles.

When the outbreak subsides, the virus retreats back along the nerve path, to remain in the body permanently.


In the "European Journal of Pain," Dr. Claes Martin of the Department of Neurology at Huddinge University Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden, writes, "Fifteen to 50 percent of AIDS patients suffer from distal predominantly sensory neuropathy, which is commonly associated with painful symptoms." Distal sensory polyneuropathy, or DSP, is damage to the peripheral sensory nerves. The mechanism by which HIV causes DSP is not well understood.

The National Institutes of Health reports that HIV infection can cause nerve damage even without the development of AIDS.

Nerve pain can severely diminish the quality of life of AIDS patients, and yet treatment of such pain is often neglected, according to Dr. Nathaniel Katz of the Pain Management Center at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. A program of clinical interventions that includes medications and therapy may help alleviate these symptoms.

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