Herpes Zoster (Shingles)
Herpes zoster (Shingles) is a painful skin rash which is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). This is the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person has chickenpox, the virus remains inactive in the nerve cells.
Years later, the virus can become active again. If it happens, a red rash or small blisters occur, generally on one side of the body, spreading along a nerve pathway where the virus was inactive.
Sometimes, even after the rash is gone, the pain may continue for a prolonged time. This is a complication called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).
People who get the chickenpox vaccine still have a small risk of Herpes zoster (Shingles), although it appears to be less than the risk after an actual chickenpox infection.
People with a weak immune system are at greater risk of getting shingles. Almost half of the cases of shingles occur in people older than age 60.
The incidence of Herpes zoster (Shingles) occurring in children is low, but the risk of getting this disease increases with age. Children who have weak immune systems may have the same, or more severe, symptoms as adults.
What are the symptoms of Herpes zoster (Shingles)?
Herpes zoster (Shingles) most often occurs on the trunk and buttocks. It may also appear on the arms, legs, or face. These are the most common symptoms:
- Pain, burning or itching on one part of your face or body
- Rash, which can appear up to 5 days after and first looks like small, red spots that turn into blisters
- Blisters which turn yellow and dry
- Rash which generally goes away in 2 to 4 weeks
- A rash is generally localized to one side or part of the body
- Fever, chills, headache, nausea
- PHN can cause pain for weeks, months, and rarely even years after the rash resolves
The symptoms of herpes zoster
may look like other skin conditions. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
What is the treatment for Herpes zoster (Shingles)?
Immediate treatment with antiviral medicines may help lessen the duration and severity of some of the symptoms. These antiviral medicines (acyclovir, famciclovir and valacyclovir) are more effective the sooner they are started.
Ask your doctor about over-the-counter pain relievers. If your pain is severe, your provider may prescribe stronger pain medicine. You and your doctor will decide on the best treatment based on factors including duration and severity of the symptoms.