Information on Herpes Zoster — also known as "Shingles"
Herpes Zoster

Herpes Zoster

What is herpes zoster and how do you know if you have it? Herpes zoster can be very painful for those who experience it. Knowledge about this virus as well as others in the herpes family will help find new treatments and possibly a cure.

What is Herpes Zoster Shingles?

Herpes zoster is the virus that causes shingles. Herpes zoster shingles is similar to chickenpox but instead of occurring all over the body, they happen in one central location or one particular side of the body.

The most obvious sign of herpes zoster shingles is the red rash or bumps that appear. Often before the rash appears, the person will feel itching and burning in the area. There are also other side effects such as pain, headache, fever and flu-like symptoms.

Herpes zoster shingles can cause problems with other areas of the body as well. For example, shingles in the eye area or on the eyes can cause eye problems and even blindness.

Symptoms of Herpes Zoster Shingles

The severity of symptoms can vary from person to person but they remain basically the same. Some symptoms include:

  • itching and burning in the area before blisters appear
  • sharp stabbing pain in area of occurrence
  • fever
  • headache
  • body aches and flu-like symptoms
  • chills
  • skin rash
  • blisters or rash on the skin
  • pain in the blisters and rash area
  • scabbing
  • persistent pain

What Causes The Herpes Zoster Virus?

The herpes zoster virus comes from the virus that causes chickenpox. After someone gets chickenpox, the virus lies in certain nerve cells and never dies. This virus usually lies dormant and people experience no problems. Often as the person ages or their immune system weakens, the virus may reactivate itself, causing shingles.

This usually happens with people over 40 and for people over 60 it can be even more painful. As the person ages, outbreaks of shingles may occur more often. Treatment is very important to these people.

There is no cure for the herpes zoster virus and once you have it, it remains in certain nerve cells and multiplies itself. The only prevention is to prevent chickenpox by getting the vaccine. As all children are vaccinated against chickenpox, we will eventually eradicate shingles all together.

For those who already have the virus in their system, there are antiviral medications and pain medications that can ease the pain and discomfort of shingles.

Who Gets Shingles?

So, who gets shingles and how do you know if you are susceptible? Some risk factors include:

  • Previously had chickenpox
  • People with chronic illnesses
  • People who are immune-suppressed
  • People with HIV/AIDS
  • People with cancer
  • People with Hodgkin's disease
  • People under a particular amount of stress

Shingles is most common in the elderly but it is possible in the young as well, and with infants.

What Is Famiclovir And Does It Help?

Famiclovir is an oral antiviral medication to help treat herpes and herpes zoster virus. Antiviral medication can help prevent outbreaks and can reduce the severity of shingles once they occur. Many people, particularly the elderly, find shingles to be extremely painful and often pain medications are prescribed as well.

Is Herpes Zoster Contagious?

Like other viral infections, herpes zoster is contagious. You cannot spread shingles but a person with shingles can spread chicken pox to a person who has never had chickenpox or never had the vaccine for chicken pox. People with shingles should be careful of being around small children, elderly or any one with weaken immune systems.

Once again, the only sure prevention is to get children vaccinated against the chicken pox virus when they are young. If you have already had chicken pox and the virus is in your system, there is no vaccine at this time. However, if you do get shingles, the sooner you seek treatment the more comfortable you will be so get to your doctor right away.

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