Shingles is caused by the
varicella zoster virus. This is the same virus that causes
chickenpox. Shingles occurs in people who have had chickenpox in their lifetime. After causing the first chickenpox infection, the virus is not totally eliminated from the body. Some of the remaining virus settles in nerve roots near the spinal cord. When reactivated, the virus travels along nerve paths to the skin where it causes pain and a rash.
Shingles can occur in those with no known risk factors.
Shingles is not usually transmitted from one person to another, but a person who has never had chickenpox and never received the
is likely to get chickenpox if contact occurs with a person who has shingles.
Covering shingles sores with a bandage reduces the risk of transmitting shingles to others.
Red and has a slightly raised band or patch, often with multiple small fluid-filled blisters that dry out and crust within several days
Develops on one side of the body, but typically does not cross the midline
Affects mostly the torso and face
The eyes to be affected, in severe cases, which can threaten vision
Sensitivity and pain on the skin at the site of the rash—pain may be severe and persist after the rash is gone
Tingling or itchiness on the skin, which may start a few days before the rash
The rash usually disappears within 3 weeks. In some cases, though, post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) develops. With PHN, the pain continues for months or even years after the rash has healed. PHN can be severe and difficult to treat.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The rash can be diagnosed by its appearance. Fluids may be drawn from the blisters for testing, but this is not done often.
The following will help relieve pain and ease symptoms:
Frequent oatmeal baths
Over-the-counter pain relievers
Topical pain relievers that are applied to the skin
Antiviral medications may control shingles. Antiviral therapy may shorten a shingles episode, but you must start it within 48-72 hours after symptoms first develop. They are especially used in people with suppressed immune systems.
If you develop shingles on your face, contact your doctor right away. You may be prescribed medications, such as steroids, to treat this condition. Without treatment, permanent eye damage can result, including glaucoma, scarring, and blindness.
There are now 2 vaccines that are used to reduce the risk of shingles and the severity of PHN if shingles occurs. The live HSV is advised for people 60 years and older. It is a single dose vaccine used in adults with healthy immune systems. The dead virus is a 2-shot series, which may be given 2-6 months apart starting at age 50 years old. Talk to your insurance company and doctor about your options.
If you do have shingles, take these steps to prevent giving chickenpox to others:
Keep all blisters covered with a bandage until they are dry and crusted over.
If you are a healthcare worker, do not return to work until the blisters are dry and crusted over.
Avoid contact with people who are at risk of getting severe varicella, such as: