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Definition

Shingles Herpes Zoster is also known as Shingles. It is a painful, blistering rash caused by the varicella virus. The rash is made up of many small blisters and it usually appears on one side only, in the area supplied by a single nerve root from the spinal cord. The pain is often sharp and burning in nature. This virus affects only a limited area of skin, and makes you feel surprisingly tired, run down, and even depressed. This allows the virus to start reproducing and move along nerve fibers toward the skin. The fact that the disease occurs more often in people older than age 50 supports this since the immune response is believed to be weaker in older people.
The eyes are sometimes affected by herpes zoster. This is due to the fact that the eyes are connected to nerves that may be infected with the herpes zoster virus.

Causes

Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV). Herpes zoster, or shingles, is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. After an episode of chickenpox, the virus becomes dormant in the body. Shingles can only occur after someone has had chickenpox. If someone who has already had chickenpox comes into contact with the fluid from shingles blisters, they will not "catch" shingles. However, people who have not had chickenpox could become infected with herpes zoster and develop chickenpox.  It is most often spread through sneezing, coughing, and breathing. 

Symptoms

Shingles start as small blisters on a red base, with new blisters continuing to form for 3-5 days. The rash may affect any part of the body, including head and limbs. It may thus appear as a band around one side of the chest or abdomen, or down an arm or leg. It may affect the head, and when it affects the upper cheek or the side of the forehead it may also affect the eye.
The common symptoms of herpes zoster which has been seen in most of the person who is affected by it are-

  • Fever, chills
  • General feeling of malaise
  • Headache
  • Lymph node swelling
  • Vision abnormalities
  • Taste abnormalities

Treatment & vaccines for herpes zoster

Treat your rash gently. Don't open your blisters. As long as there is blistering or crusting, compresses with dilute vinegar will make you more comfortable. Compress the blisters or crusts for 10 minutes twice daily with a mixture of one-quarter cup of white vinegar and two quarts of lukewarm water.

Acyclovir is an antiviral medication that may be prescribed to shorten the course, reduce pain, reduce complications, or protect an immunocompromised individual. If you have significant discomfort which is not controlled by simple analgesics such as paracetamol, seek your doctor's advice. You may be referred to a Pain Clinic at your local hospital.

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