Herpes zoster (Shingles)
Herpes zoster also known as shingles is a painful skin rash caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV) that also causes chicken pox.
After recovering from chicken pox or after receiving chicken pox vaccine, the virus stays inactive in the body and can reactivate later in life causing shingles.
Commonly, the risk of getting shingles increases with age or if one have a weakened immune system such as living with HIV/AIDS, cancer or on treatment such as long term steroids, radiation or chemotherapy.
Signs & Symptoms:
Shingles is a painful rash that classically develops on one side of the face or body. It may appear as a band of blisters along the path of the nerve where the virus had been inactive. Rarely, the rash may be more widespread and looks similar to a chicken pox rash which usually presents in people who have a weakened immune system.
Usually before the rash develops, one may experience pain, burning, itching or tingling in the area where the rash will appear.
After that a rash may appear which usually appears along a band accompanied by fluid-filled blisters that typically scab over within 10 days and clears up within 2- 4 weeks.
Other associated symptoms include fever, headaches, chills, upset stomach or abdominal pain.
So why is it important to diagnose shingles early?
Although shingles is not a life-threatening condition, prompt treatment can ease pain, shorten the duration on the infection and reduces the risk of complications.
Treatment would include oral antiviral medications, topical ointments, anti-inflammatory drugs and pain relievers.
Complications associated with shingles:
Post herpetic neuralgia
– this is when shingles pain continues even after the blisters have cleared.
Temporary or permanent vision loss
– this is when shingles affect the nerves of the eyes causing painful eye infections.
– depending on which nerves are affected, shingles can cause inflammation of the brain, loss of facial movement, hearing or balance issues.
Secondary bacterial skin infection
– due to inadequately treated blisters.
Can I reduce the risk of getting shingles?
Yes, you can by getting vaccinated. Zostavax is currently the only shingles vaccine available.
Although the vaccine does not guarantee that you will not get shingles, it can reduce the severity of the disease and reduces your chances of complications such as post herpetic neuralgia.
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