Shingles, also known as Herpes zoster is a viral disease in which the person has painful skin rash along with blisters in a small area on any side of the body. Any person who had chicken pox is at risk of contracting Shingles as the chicken pox virus is responsible for shingles as well.
Initially, the varicella zoster virus causes acute chicken pox and it is seen in children and young person. After chicken pox is freed from the body the virus does not get eliminated from the body but instead causes shingles, which is very different from Chicken pox. It could come out after many years of the appearance of chicken pox.
Shingles affect one in every four people in their lifetime. Both men and women are affected equally. The disease is seen more in older people though younger people are also seen to be affected by the illness. Those with weakened immune system are also seen to be afflicted by the disease. If someone who never had chicken pox before comes in contact with a person with Shingles, he can contract Chicken pox.
The blisters found in Shingles are filled with chicken pox virus and hence shingles is considered as infectious. You cannot contract shingles from somebody having the disease or chicken pox but you can have chicken pox from a person with shingles, if you never had chicken pox before. Around 95 percent of adults had chickenpox and hence are immune to the disease, though many had small dose of chicken pox when young. There are small numbers of adults who are at risk as they are not immune to the disease. If the immune system is suppressed, as for example when treatment is going on for cancer, the person can get chicken pox for the second time.
The person having shingles will experience excessively sensitive, burning and tingling sensation on their skin, where the shingles rash later comes out. The areas with shingles are generally painful. The person will also experience fever, enlarged lymph nodes and headaches. Within a few days there are appearances of the characteristic shingles rash in the form of patch of red spots on the trunk or face sides. It generally appears on a single side only. The rash changes into fluid filled blisters which gives way into forming some small ulcers. These then dry out and crusts are formed in its place. As the rash disappears, pain appears which is known as post-herpetic neuralgia. People with post-herpetic pain are found to be depressed about their illness. It is found mostly in older people.
The treatment for shingles virus is done with antiviral medication. To relieve the pain, painkillers are given to the patient and calamine lotion is used to reduce the itching sensation. If the shingles has affected the eyes, the patient needs to be administered antiviral therapy and need to meet an ophthalmologist. If the shingles patient has weak immune system, he need to be moved to hospital for getting intravenous antiviral therapy as there is a good chance of the patient of having complications from chicken pox. They are given injection of immunoglobulin or antiviral antibodies.
The treatment as told above do not prevent the disease, but it reduces the duration and the harshness of the infection. It also prevents any complications arising from the infection. The sooner one is given immunoglobulin, the faster and effective the treatment is likely to be. The treatment should be provided within 96 hours to have an impact. To treat post-herpetic neuralgia, painkillers and capsaicin cream are given and in some cases some specific antidepressants are also provided.
The chicken pox virus travels back down the nerves to the skin to cause the shingles rash. It is not clear the cause of chicken pox virus reactivation but it could be linked to some changes in the immune system of the body. Hence one should keep his or her immune systems in good condition to stop from getting shingles.