Shingles or also known as herpes zoster is a painful skin rash as a result of a viral infection. Commonly , it appears as a band or stripe of blisters on one side of one’s face or neck, but it does not mean it will not occur on the other parts of body.
The main cause of shingles is Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV). For your information, it is the same virus which causes Chickenpox. The difference between these two infections is : everybody will have Chickenpox once in his or her lifetime and if a person has had chickenpox he will not have chickenpox anymore in the future. Yet, the next time (sometime it takes years) he is affected by the varicella virus, he can have shingles.
How does it occur?
Let we say that a person has had chickenpox in his childhood, and after got some medical care the infection had been resolved. For some people that is the ending of VZV, but for the others (we will discuss who is at this risk in the next section) the virus is still remaining in their nerve cells in a “sleep” or “inactive” condition. Shingles occurs when the varicella virus “wakes up” or “re-actives” again in a person’s body who has had chickenpox. The virus will only cause singles and will never cause chicken pox for the second time.
In most cases, the symptoms of shingles occur in some stages.
- It starts with headache, and a person may feel sick like he or she has flu without any fever, usually followed by pain, itching or tingling sensation in an area of his body.
- Then, the visible symptoms may appear, a rash area may be developed in that itching and painful spot of the skin.
- The rashes become fluid-filled blisters.
- Those blisters start to broke and crust over.
- Along with the visible symptoms, a person with shingles also may have fever, feels dizzy, weak and has a problem with vision (if the shingles occurs around the eyes), and sensitivity to light.
Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles in the future time. But, it does not mean that all of people who had chickenpox in their childhood will be affected by varicella virus for the second time and have shingles. Some studies showed that the ones who have the highest risk are only those with weakened immune system (includes those with immune disease such as AIDS), or the ones in their 60s, 70s, when the vaccine of varicella virus may no longer works properly to fight the virus. Shingles on adults are more painful
Does shingles spread or contagious?
Actually, shingles is not as contagious as chickenpox. The varicella virus may spread to others through the direct contact with the fresh shingles blisters or its fluids. The dry or “already-well-covered by scab” blisters will not affect others.
When the virus affects another person who have had chickenpox in the past, the person will get shingles and not chickenpox. On the other hand, if the virus spreads to a person who has not had chickenpox in the past, the virus will only cause chickenpox, not shingles. The next time he is affected by the VZV, will be a time when he gets shingles.
How long to recover
Shingles is temporary, if it is treated well, the person with singles will get a full recovery in a short period. The pain may last for weeks (or rarely in months) . And a well-treated shingles will fully heal in months.
The treatment used in treating shingles are given to reduce the symptoms or shorten the duration of shingles episode (stages).
- To reduce pain
- To reduce the mild pain, a health provider may give a person with shingles counter pain medications such as topical lotion containing calamin.
- Morphine may be given for severe pain.
- If the blisters have been covered by crust scabs, a person may apply capsaicin cream.
- To shorten the symptoms stages, antiviral drugs such as acyclovir, valaciclovir and famciclovir may be recommended. Ask your doctor for further information.
Having Zoster Vaccine
Vaccination will reduce about 51% the risk of having shingles. This vaccine will protect a person for about 5 years. People on their 60s -69s or older may be required to receive shingles vaccine for their immune systems are compromised, or the vaccine they had receive in childhood (chickenpox vaccine) may have been less effective to fight the virus.
Note : people with a history of allergic reaction to gelatin or antibiotic neomycin, pregnant women, people with immune system disease, etc. should consult to their doctor first before decide to receive any vaccination.
How to prevent the spread of VZV
If you are the one who has shingles, make sure to do the things below to prevent the virus spreads to others :
- Cover the rash
- Hands off, do not scratch or touch the blisters
- Wash your hands before and after doing something, especially if it is related with the rash.
- Before the rash is covered by crusts, do not make any direct contact with pregnant women or who ever who has never had chickenpox vaccine, people with weak immune system or disease related to immune systems, and infants (especially the premature ones).
Does shingles leave scar?
For cosmetics reason, many people are wondering about whether it leave a scar or not. It is true that the blisters and rash infection may leave scars. How severe the scar itself depends on how bad the infection is, especially if a person like to scratch their affected skin because of the itchy sensation.
Usually, the scars may be a little bit unobtrusive over time. But to get rid from the scar, you can use some products which especially designed to fade scars or talk to your health provider for any recommended treatment.
Prevent the scars
Preventing is much better and easier than fading the scars. The scars are caused by infection, which may come from a person habit to scratch the rash to relieve from the itchy sensation. So the best way to prevent the scar is by preventing any further infection. You can apply any recommended counter pain products such as ibuprofen or naproxen, you also can apply any recommended anti- itch cream, or home remedy such as aloe vera gel. It will relieve the pain and itchy sensation on the affected skin, then you will not scratch it and cause further infection.