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Definition

Shingles is also called herpes zoster. It is a skin rash that is often extremely painful caused by the Varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays in the body. Anyone who has recovered from chickenpox may develop shingles, including children. However, shingles most commonly occurs in people 50 years old and older. Scientists are not certain why the virus reactivates or why it reactivates only in some of the people who have had chickenpox. It reappears when the immune system is weakened by age, disease or unmanaged stress. There are different kind of shingles:

  • Roof shingles
  • Solar shingles
  • Asphalt shingles
  • Cedar shingles
  • Timbeline shingles
  • Metal shingles
  • Certained singles

Causes

Shingles is a disease caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. One study reports that the virus that causes shingles may be released into the air from shingles sores. Herpes zoster is common in people with a weakened immune system, such as AIDS patients or people taking anticancer or immunosuppressant drugs. Shingles is more common in the elderly, who tend to have less efficient immune systems.

Symptoms

Early symptoms of shingles include headache, sensitivity to light, and flu like symptoms without a fever. Typically, the rash begins with clusters of red bumps. Over several days, new bumps appear, tending to form a path toward the spine. When the virus becomes reactivated, it travels up the nerve roots to the bandlike area of skin supplied by those specific nerve roots. This is why the rash appears on only one side of your body, usually the chest or back. Sometimes, the shingles rash occurs around one eye or on one side of the neck or face.

Treatment & vaccines for shingles

Tests are not normally needed to diagnose shingles, because the type and location of the blisters are usually distinctive. However, sometimes a test to identify the varicella virus is carried out. This involves a blood test to measure antibody levels in the blood.

Treatment with famciclovir may significantly reduce pain and hasten recovery from an acute attack. Researchers believe that the drug works by preventing the multiplication of the virus during an acute attack which can damage the affected nerves causing pain.

Because a virus causes shingles, the main treatment is antiviral medication such as acyclovir, famciclovir, or valacyclovir. These pills are taken three to five times a day for 7 to10 days.

Researchers found that giving older adults the vaccine reduced the expected number of cases of shingles by half. And in people who still got the disease despite immunization, the severity and complications of shingles were dramatically reduced.

Tap water compresses must be stopped once the blisters have dried, so the surrounding skin does not become too dry and itchy.

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