Herpes Zoster Infection

What is herpes zoster inflection?

A herpes zoster infection, commonly known as shingles, is a common viral infection. It is caused by the chickenpox virus, the varicella zoster virus, which can reactivate and cause new symptoms. Shingles tends to affect older people and people with a weak immune system. Shingles causes a burning pain, followed by a blistering rash, which tends to only affect one area of the body. This is quite characteristic, and is usually enough to make the diagnosis. This condition is treated with anti-viral medications. People with shingles should avoid contact with people who have not been vaccinated against chickenpox and people who have a weakened immune system. The rash will usually begin to get better within two weeks, and although most people recover well, some may be left with persistent pain in the area.

Risks

Herpes zoster is an infection with the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). This virus causes two different conditions. The first, chickenpox, is a widespread, blistering rash. The virus then stays quiet in the body for a number of years before recurring as shingles. Although having chickenpox usually makes one immune to having chickenpox again, it does not make one immune to shingles. Shingles tends to affect older people, and people who have a weakened immune system. People who had chickenpox as a child are at risk of developing this condition.

Symptoms

Shingles often begins with a tingling, burning pain in one area of the body. This is followed by a blistering rash. The area may also feel numb. Although this can occur anywhere on the body, the rash is most common on the chest, back, shoulders or face. The blisters eventually burst and become crusted. People with shingles may also have a fever, lose their appetite and feel generally unwell.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis can usually be confidently made based on the symptoms and the appearance of the rash. If uncertain, the diagnosis can be confirmed with blood tests or by taking a sample of fluid from a blister and testing for the virus.

Treatment

Shingles is usually treated with anti-viral medication. Some doctors may prescribe steroid tablets to reduce swelling and itching, but this is not necessary in most cases. Anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, may help reduce the pain and swelling. People with shingles should try to avoid scratching at the rash.

Prevention

People who have shingles should keep away from people who have not been vaccinated against chickenpox (especially newborns) and people who have a weak immune system. Vaccination against chickenpox (the varicella vaccination) and herpes zoster (a herpes zoster vaccination) can help to prevent and reduce the severity of some cases of shingles.

Other names for heroes zoster infection

  • Shingles