Shingles (Herpes zoster)
What is shingles?
Shingles is a painful rash caused by the Varicella zostervirus (Herpes varicellae), which is the virus that causes chickenpox. Shingles occurs in people who have had chickenpox and is a reactivation of the dormant virus. Shingles often occurs long after the initial chickenpox infection maybe years. Shingles is contagious and may itself cause chickenpox. However, contact with a person with shingles or chickenpox cannot cause shingles.
The causes shingles
After the chickenpox virus has been contracted, it travels from the skin along the nerve paths to the roots of the nerves where it becomes inactive. The chickenpox virus then 'hibernates'. When the virus is reactivated, it travels via the nerve paths to the skin. It is not known what factors trigger a reactivation of the virus. Shingles generally affects the elderly, but occasionally occurs in children who have had chickenpox within the first year of their lives and in people with an immune deficiency.
Shingles can be a sign of immunodeficiency, caused by HIV or chemotherapy,stress, long time after sickness for example, but most people who get shingles have a normal immune system.
What are the symptoms?
The first sign that a reactivation of the chickenpox virus is taking place is a burning sensation on the nerve paths along which the virus is travelling. Nerve paths typically form half-circles around the body. The pain and subsequent rash correspond to the position of the nerve paths and are almost always on one side of the body or face or limbs only, but more common in the trunk body .The rash is typically accompanied by a fever and enlarged lymph nodes.
Two to three days after the pain has begun, a typical rash appears: small blisters on red, swollen skin. It resembles the type that is seen during an attack of chickenpox but covers a smaller area.
The rash usually reaches its peak after three to five days. Then, the blisters burst and turn into sores, which gradually scab over. The scabs fall off after two to three weeks.
Sometimes the area where the rash was located becomes extremely painful after the scabs have gone and can last from a few weeks to several months. This highly unpleasant after-effect of shingles is called postherpetic neuralgia.
People who have never had chickenpox can reduce the risk of getting the virus by avoiding contact with people with chickenpox and shingles. Shingles itself is not preventable.
patient's medical history in combination with the appearance of the rash
will usually be sufficient for making a diagnosis. If necessary, a
scrape from the blisters can help identify the virus. A blood sample can
also be used to confirm the initial diagnosis.
What happens if it gets worse?
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a disease that affects an estimated 2 in every 10 people in their lifetime. This year, more than 500,000 people will develop shingles.
Shingles, or herpes zoster, is a viral infection of sensory nerve cells caused by the same virus (Varicella zoster) that causes chicken pox. The virus remains latent in the dorsal root ganglia of the spinal cord after the initial attack of chicken pox.
The disease is primarily seen in the elderly, but occasionally occurs in younger individuals. It affects both sexes and all races with equal frequency and occurs sporadically throughout the year.
Shingles is not usually dangerous to healthy individuals although it can cause great misery during an attack. Anyone with shingles on the upper half of their face, no matter how mild, should seek medical care at once.
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