Shingles, also known as zoster or herpes zoster, is a skin rash caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays in the body in a dormant (inactive) state. The virus can reactivate years later, causing shingles.
Herpes zoster is not caused by the same virus that causes genital herpes, a sexually transmitted disease. Anyone who has recovered from chickenpox may develop shingles; even children can get shingles. However the risk of disease increases as a person gets older.
People who have medical conditions that keep their immune systems from working properly are also at greater risk of getting shingles.
Signs and Symptoms
Shingles usually starts as a painful rash on one side of the face or body. The rash forms blisters that typically scab over in 7-10 days and clears up within 2-4 weeks. Before the rash develops, there is often pain, itching, or tingling in the area where the rash will develop. This may happen anywhere from 1-5 days before the rash appears.
Most commonly, the rash occurs in a single stripe around either the left or the right side of the body or face. In rare cases, usually among people with weakened immune systems, the rash may be more widespread and look similar to a chickenpox rash. Shingles can affect the eye and cause loss of vision. Other symptoms include fever, headache, chills, or stomach upset.
Shingles cannot be passed from one person to another. However, the virus that causes shingles, the varicella zoster virus, can be spread from a person with active shingles to a person who has never had chickenpox. In such cases, the person exposed to the virus might develop chickenpox, but they would not develop shingles. The virus is spread through direct contact with fluid from the rash blisters, not through sneezing, coughing, or casual contact.
A person with shingles can spread the virus when the rash is in the blister-phase. A person is not infectious before blisters appear. Once the rash has developed crusts, the person is no longer contagious. Shingles is less contagious than chickenpox and the risk of a person with shingles spreading the virus is low if the rash is covered.
If you have shingles:
- Keep the rash covered. Do not touch or scratch the rash.
- Wash you rhands often to prevent the spread of varicella zoster virus.
- Until your rash has developed crusts, avoid contact with:
- Pregnant women and infants
- Immunocompromised persons
- People who take immunosuppressive medications
- People undergoing chemotherapy
- Organ transplant recipients
- People with the HIV infection
Several antiviral medicines are available to treat shingles. These medicines help shorten the length and severity of the illness. To be effective, these medicines must be started as soon as possible after the rash appears. Thus, people who have or think they have shingles should call Dr. Lily as soon as possible to discuss treatment options.
Pain medicine may have relieve pain caused by shingles; however, shingles-related pain varies. Wet compresses, calamine lotion, and oatmeal baths may help relieve itching.
The tingling or burning associated with the shingles rash can last weeks after the shingles rash has resolved. If pain, itch, tingling, or numbness persists beyond three months, please call us so you can be evaluated by Dr. Lily or one of our other healthcare providers.