Friday, July 6, 2012

Shingles, Are You At Risk?

Shingles (herpes zoster) is a painful, blistering skin rash due to the varicella-zoster virus, the virus that causes chickenpox. Shingles usually appears in a band, a strip, or a small area on one side of the face or body. The skin rash is caused by nerve and skin inflammation by the same virus that previously caused chickenpox.

Anyone who?s had chickenpox may develop shingles. After you get chickenpox, the virus remains inactive (dormant) in the nervous system and is never fully cleared from your body. Shingles occurs after the virus becomes active again in these nerves years later due to stress, or weakened immune system caused by aging. The virus may also be triggered to become active by certain medication. It is not clear how this happens but when the virus becomes active again, it can only cause shingles, not chickenpox. Usually there is only one attack of shingles. You cannot get shingles from someone who has it but the virus can spread to someone who has never had chicken pox or hasn?t gotten the chicken pox vaccine. This usually occurs through direct contact with the open sores of the shingles rash. Once infected, the person will develop chickenpox, however, not shingles.

The shingle rash starts out as red patches on the skin, followed by small blisters on a red base with new blisters continuing to form for three to five days. The blisters break, forming small ulcers that begin to dry and form crusts which fall off in 2 to 3 weeks. Scarring is rare. The blisters follow the path of individual nerves that come out of the spinal cord in a specific ?ray-like? distribution called a dermatomal pattern. The rash usually involves a narrow area from the spine, around to the front of the belly area or chest. It may also appear on other parts of the body like face, eyes, mouth and ears. Other signs and symptoms include abdominal pain, fever and chills, headache, general ill-feeling, hearing loss, joint pain, taste problems, swollen glands and difficulty moving some of the muscles in the faceThere is no cure for shingles, but treatment may shorten the length of illness and prevent complications.

You should avoid touching the rash and blisters of persons with shingles or chickenpox if you have never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine. Herpes zoster vaccine is available for all persons at risk of getting shingles. Like the chickenpox vaccine, the shingles vaccine doesn?t guarantee you won?t get shingles, but this vaccine will likely reduce the course and severity of the disease and reduce your risk of postherpetic neuralgia.

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