Herpes zoster, also known as shingles or zoster, is a viral infection caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. Anyone who has had chicken pox can develop herpes zoster. The virus remains dormant (inactive) and when it reactivates it causes shingles.
It is not clear what makes the virus reactivate. Illness, trauma, and stress may trigger shingles. It is more common in individuals over the age 50.
What are the symptoms of Shingles?
First, there may be burning, itching, tingling, or extreme sensitivity in one area of the skin usually limited to one side of the body. This may be present for one to three days before a red rash appears at that site. There may also be a fever or headache. The rash soon turns into groups of blisters. The blisters generally last for two to three weeks. Shingles is most common on the trunk and buttocks, but it can also appear on the face, arms, or legs if nerves in these areas are involved.
Great care is needed if the blisters involve the eye because permanent eye damage can result. Blisters on the tip of the nose signal possible eye involvement.
Is shingles contagious?
Persons with shingles can transmit the virus. Newborns or those with decreased immunity are at the highest risk for contracting chicken pox from someone who has shingles.
What about treatment?
If diagnosed early, oral anti-viral medications can be prescribed to decrease both viral shedding and the duration of skin lesions. The earlier the treatment is started the better. We recommend the shingles vaccine for individuals ages 50 and older and adults who have weakened immune systems.
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