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Shingles (Herpes Zoster)

Shingles, also called herpes zoster or zoster, is a painful skin rash caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays in the body. Usually the virus does not cause any problems; however, the virus can reappear years later, causing shingles. Herpes zoster is not caused by the same virus that causes genital herpes, a sexually transmitted disease.

Shingles affects an estimated 2 in every 10 people in their lifetime. It is most common in people over age 50. People with weakened immune systems are also at higher risk.

Symptoms

Shingles usually starts as a rash on one side of the face or body. The rash starts as blisters that scab after 3 to 5 days. The rash usually clears within 2 to 4 weeks.

Before the rash develops, there is often pain, itching, or tingling in the area where the rash will develop. Other symptoms of shingles can include fever, headache, chills, and upset stomach.

Complications

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among those who get shingles, more than one-third will develop serious complications. The risk of complications rises after 60 years of age.

If shingles appears on your face, it can lead to complications in your hearing and vision. For instance, if shingles affects your eye, the cornea can become infected and lead to temporary or permanent blindness.

Another complication of the virus is postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), a condition where the pain from shingles persists for months, sometimes years, after the shingles rash has healed.

Treatment

Several medicines, acyclovir (Zovirax), valacyclovir (Valtrex), and famciclovir (Famvir), are available to treat shingles. These medications should be started as soon as possible after the rash appears and will help shorten how long the illness lasts and how severe the illness is. Pain medicine may also help with pain caused by shingles. Call your doctor as soon as possible to discuss treatment options.

 

Sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, USA.