The virus is thought to gain entry via the respiratory tract and spreads shortly after to the lymphoid system.
After an incubation period of 14 days, the virus arrives at its main target organ, the skin.
Following the primary infection, the virus remains latent in the cerebral or posterior root ganglia. In 10 - 20% of individuals, a single recurrent infection occurs after several decades.
The virus reactivates in the ganglion and tracks down the sensory nerve to the area of the skin innervated by the nerve, producing a varicellaform rash in the distribution of a dermatome.