Shingles or Herpes Zoster is an infection localized to a certain area of the body. Shingles is caused by the Varicella-Zoster Virus. The Varicella-Zoster Virus is the same virus that causes Chickenpox. Shingles occurs only in people who have had Chickenpox at some point in the past. Shingles is the result of a reactivation of the dormant Varicella Virus. At present it is unknown as to the reason why the Varicella Virus reactivates in some individuals and not in others. The only way to prevent Shingles is by preventing or eliminating Chickenpox.
The first sign of Shingles is often a tingling feeling, itchiness, or stabbing pain on the skin. After a few days, a rash will start to appear. The Shingles Rash will beginning as a patch of raised dots on the infected area of the skin. The Shingles Rash will then develop into small fluid blisters. These Shingles Blisters will start drying out taking on a crusty appearance and texture within a few days. When the rash is at its peak, symptoms can range from mild itching to extreme and intense pain. In most cases, the Shingles Rash and Shingles Pain usually disappear around four weeks. Shingles symptoms can range anywhere from mild itching to extreme pain.
In some instances, Herpes Zoster can cause what is known as Post-Herpetic Neuralgia. Postherpetic Neuralgia causes prolonged misery and distress and can be identified as chronic pain that results from Shingles. Unfortunately, there is no treatment that will definitely prevent the occurrence of chronic pain or Postherpetic Neuralgia. Studies have shown that antiviral medication can lessen the severity and duration of Shingles and may reduce the incidence of Post-Herpetic Neuralgia.
Reactivation of the Herpes Zoster virus is more common in elderly people whose immune system is weakened. Consider a few of the various possible causes of Shingles :
- conditions that affect the immune system, including HIV infection
- periods of increased stress
- excess alcohol intake
- long term courses of steroids
- chemotherapy or radiotherapy - cancer treatments
- medicines used after organ transplants (immunosuppressants)