Shingles, otherwise known as Herpes Zoster, is a rash found on the skin that is caused by a virus that also causes chickenpox. The virus is known as the Varicella Zoster Virus and is part of the Herpes family. Once a person has had the chickenpox, the VZV virus continues to live throughout the nervous system for the remainder of ones life. There are times in which a person who has had chickenpox before gets a weakened immune system from chemotherapy, AIDS, cancer or significant emotional stress and it reactivates the VZV and shingles will appear. Although not always, most of the cases of shingles occurring are in people over the age of 60 years old.
Often the skin will start to feel very sensitive and have a burning sensation a few days or a week prior to any obvious rash. Once the rash appears, it usually starts as small red blisters. The blisters continue to form on the skin for 3-5 days and appear in a belt like pattern. This is because the blisters follow the path of the nerves that stem from the spinal cord. This path can have areas with several blisters and other areas without blisters. The blisters will pop after a few days and they will start to ooze. Once this happens, the blisters with start to crust and heal. From the first symptom until the last blister heals can take up to 4 weeks, depending on the person and the severity of the case. There have been cases in which the burning of the skin is apparent but the blisters never surface.
Unfortunately shingles is contagious. However it is passes on to people who have not previously had the chickenpox virus. For these people the virus does not appear as shingles but rather as chickenpox. If a person has had chickenpox in the past they will not get the shingles from another carrier. The only time in which a person who has had chickenpox to get shingles is later on in life and it has been caused by one of the immune weakening conditions as previously mentioned. For those that have never had chickenpox, they are able to contract the virus if they come into contact with a person who is in the phase of getting new blisters. Once all the blisters have started healing and no other blisters are forming, the virus is no longer contagious.
Other side effects of shingles may include fever, chills, fatigue, itchy skin and stomach problems. It is important for those that have the itching sensation to avoid scratching the skin. Scratching can cause secondary infections.
When the first signs of shingles appear your should see your doctor as soon as possible. Starting a treatment method during the beginning phase of shingles can prevent the virus from progressing into a worse condition. The doctor may start you on antiviral medications to reduce the duration of the virus and to help reduce pain. Other medications used to control pain from fever, headache or from the burning skin are over the counter medications such as ibuprofen, aspirin or acetaminophen. Corticosteriods are used along with the antiviral medications and can also reduce the duration of the shingles as well as help with the pain associated with the blistering skin. Using topical antibiotics on the skin can help prevent infections from the open blisters as well as offer some relief from the burning and itching.
If you get chickenpox or shingles it is best to see a doctor to get a medical opinion on your condition. Again, the severity of the virus is dependant on the individual person so symptoms may vary.
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