What Is Shingles?
Shingles, also called herpes zoster or zoster, is a painful skin rash caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox (VZV). After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays in the body. Usually the virus does not cause any problems; however, the virus can reappear years later, causing a rash of shingles to break out on the skin. Shingles most commonly occurs in older people or those who have medical conditions that keep the immune system from working properly.
Signs & Symptoms: Shingles usually starts as a rash on one side of the face or body. The rash starts as blisters that scab after 3 to 5 days. The rash usually clears within 2 to 4 weeks. Before the rash develops, there is often pain, itching, or tingling in the area where the rash will develop. Other symptoms of shingles can include fever, headache, chills, and upset stomach. For about 1 person in 5, severe pain can continue even after the rash clears up. This pain is called post-herpetic neuralgia.
Prevention: Shingles is not contagious, but the chickenpox virus (VZV) can be spread to anyone who has not had chickenpox through direct contact with the rash while it is in the blistering phase. The exposed person will develop chickenpox, not shingles. Once the rash has developed crusts, the person is no longer contagious. People with shingles should keep the rash covered, not touch or scratch the rash, and wash their hands often to prevent the spread of VZV.
Treatment options: See your doctor immediately to get on medication that will help shorten the duration and severity of the illness. Several medicines, acyclovir (Zovirax), valacyclovir (Valtrex), and famciclovir (Famyir) are effective at treating shingles. Pain medicine may also help.
If you have shingles on your face, see a doctor immediately. Without treatment, shingles can damage an eye.
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