Search Tools: Web | News | Images | Forums | MedPro
Introduction: Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful skin rash on one side of the body in a limited area. Also known as herpes zoster, shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After an episode of chickenpox during your youth, the varicella-zoster virus can lay dormant in your body for many years and later re-emerge as shingles.
The virus can be transmitted to adults (by contact with the blister fluid, not by an infected person coughing or breathing on you) who never had chickenpox as a child or received a chickenpox vaccine. However, instead of getting shingles, a severe form of chickenpox will develop.(1) Approximatley 1 in 5 adults who have had chicken pox in the past, will get shingles at some point in their lives.
Treatment: If left untreated, shingles usually goes away in 2-3 weeks. However, if you suspect you are in the first stage of a shingles outbreak, consult with your doctor immediately. Antiviral medications (such as acyclovir) given in the first 48 to 72 hours can speed the healing process and reduce the risk of complications. Antivirals cannot "cure" shingles, they only weaken the virus and it's effects. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to treat the pain that accompanies shingles if the pain is especially severe. (1,3)
Corticosteroids and anti-histamines may also be prescribed.
The pain and irritation can be eased with cool, wet compresses, soothing baths and lotions such as calamine lotion. Talk to your doctor about home treatments you can use to relieve the symptoms.
Prevention: If you have never had chickenpox, doctors recommend vaccination with Varivax, a popular childhood immunization vaccine. Varivax is effective in preventing chickenpox 70 to 90 percent of the time. The remainder who do get the disease report milder side effects.
For those adults 60 and older who have HAD chickenpox, but have not yet had shingles, doctors recommend Zostavax, a new shingles vaccine approved by the FDA in May 2006. Zostavax is a stronger version of Varivax and is effective in reducing the risk of shingles by 50 percent in adults over 60. In the 60 to 69 age group, Zostavax was 64 percent effective.(2,3)
During a shingles episode, special care should be taken so as not to infect other family members. Items used by the affected individual should be washed thoroughly in hot, soapy water and and should not come into contact with others. Isolation within the home may be necessary.
Article by Jason Morrow,
OmniMedicalSearch does not provide medical advice and the Medical Conditions & Diseases section is for informational purposes only. Please see our Medical Disclaimer and always consult with your physician.
Page Last Modified: