Herpes Zoster - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
Herpes zoster is also known as shingles or only zoster. It is is a viral infection caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. Anyone who has had chicken pox can develop herpes zoster. The virus remains dormant (inactive), in certain nerve cells of the body, and when it reactivates it causes zoster. About 20 percent of those people who have had chicken pox will get zoster. Most people get zoster only once. Varicella zoster virus infection initially produces chickenpox. Following resolution of the chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in the dorsal root ganglia until focal reactivation along a ganglion's distribution results in herpes zoster. Under certain circumstances, such as emotional stress, immune deficiency or with cancer, the virus re- activates causing shingles. In most cases, however, a cause for the reactivation of the virus is never found. The herpes virus that causes shingles and chicken pox is not the same as the herpes virus that causes genital herpes (which can be sexually transmitted) and herpes mouth sores.
- After the chickenpox virus has been contracted, it travels from the skin along the nerve paths to the roots of the nerves where it becomes inactive. The chickenpox virus then hibernates. When the virus is reactivated, it travels via the nerve paths to the skin. It is not known what factors trigger a reactivation of the virus.
- Herpes zoster generally affects the elderly, but occasionally occurs in children who have had chickenpox within the first year of their lives.
- It also occurs in people with an immune deficiency. Shingles can be a sign of immunodeficiency, caused by HIV or chemotherapy.
- Radiation treatments can also cause herpes zoster to occur.
- Other causes may be injury of the skin where the rash occurs, cancer, stress and fatigue etc.
- One sided or unilateral pain, tingling or burning sensation limited to a specific part of the body. Sometimes pain and burning sensation may be intense.
- There may be reddening of the skin followed by the appearance of blisters.
- The blisters follow the path of individual nerves that comes out of the spinal cord. The entire path of the nerve may be involved or there may be areas with blisters and areas without blisters.
- Some people have mostly itching while some feel pain from the gentlest touch or breeze.
- Some rashes merge and produce an area that looks like a severe burn. Other patients may have just a few scattered lesions that don't cause severe symptoms.
- Although an episode of shingles usually heals on its own within a few weeks, prompt treatment can ease pain, speed healing and reduce the risk of complications.
- Oral antiviral medications such as acyclovir, valacyclovir or famciclovir are prescribed to treat shingles preferably beginning within 48 to 72 hours of the first sign of the shingles rash.
- If the pain is severe you may take pain killer by advice of a doctor. Sometimes tricyclic antidepressants or certain anticonvulsants are helpful.
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