Shingles is a painful rash caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Once a person has had chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus remains dormant in the body. The virus can be reactivated later in life and result in the shingles rash.
Shingles is more common in adults over 50 years of age and in people with conditions that weaken the immune system.
Technically, you cannot catch shingles from someone else, as shingles itself is not transmitted from person-to-person. However, a person who never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine can catch chickenpox from a person who has shingles.
Risk factors for developing shingles include:
What Are Symptoms of Shingles?
Early symptoms of shingles include:
- Unusual sensations such as tingling, itching, or burning in an area of skin on one side of the body
- Feeling unwell (malaise)
After one to two days, symptoms of shingles include:
- A rash that looks like a band-like pattern of blisters on one side of the body
- The rash usually appears on the trunk (chest, abdomen, and back) but can develop on almost any part of the body
- After three to four days, blisters become open sores (ulcers)
- After 7 to 10 days, sores crust over and are no longer contagious (in people with healthy immune systems)
- A rash near the eye (this can permanently affect vision if not treated)
- Frequently begins several days before the rash appears
- May have a sharp, stabbing, or burning quality
- Ranges from mild to severe
- Only involves the parts of the skin affected by the rash, but it can be severe and interfere with daily activities and sleep
- Often worse in older adults than in younger people
Skin color changes and scarring may occur after shingles has gone away.
What Is the Treatment for Shingles?
Treatment of shingles usually involves a combination of antiviral and pain medications.
- Antiviral medications
- Pain medications
- Antibiotics, if the rash becomes infected
- Home remedies to help relieve itching
- Wet compresses
- Calamine lotion
- Colloidal oatmeal baths
How Do You Prevent Shingles?
The primary way to prevent shingles is vaccination.
There are two shingles vaccines available for adults 50 years and older to reduce the chance of developing shingles:
- Zostavax (zoster vaccine live) shingles vaccine
- Available in a single dose
- Protection lasts about 5 years
- Reduces the risk of developing shingles by 51% and postherpetic neuralgia, a complication of shingles, by 67%.
- Shingrix (recombinant zoster vaccine)
- Requires two doses administered two to six months apart
- Preferred because it is more effective: more than 90% effective at preventing shingles and postherpetic neuralgia
- Protection stays above 85% for at least four years following vaccination
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