Shingles is a more common complication than we think. This chickenpox-related virus can appear in the form of herpes or shingles, causing painful skin reactions.
To know everything about herpes that causes skin problems, we tell you all about its risk factors, the most frequent places where it appears and what are the best treatments. There is also the possibility of getting vaccinated, although this will have to be determined by a specialist doctor.
What is herpes zoster?
This herpes is an infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Even after the chickenpox infection ends, the virus can live in your nervous system for years before reactivated as shingles. This type of viral infection is characterized by a red skin rash that can cause pain and burning. It usually appears as a strip of blisters on one side of the body, usually on the torso, neck, or face.
In about 5 days, you may see a red rash in that area. A few days later, small groups of fluid-filled blisters may appear that ooze in the same area. You may even experience flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, or fatigue.
Over the next 10 days, the blisters will dry out and crust over. The scabs will disappear after a couple of weeks, although it is possible to continue to feel pain. This is called postherpetic neuralgia.
Most cases of herpes clear up in 3 to 5 weeks . It rarely occurs more than once in the same person, but about 1 in 3 people will get shingles at some point in their life.
What factors cause shingles?
As we said before, this herpes is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox. If you have already had this disease, you can develop shingles when this virus reactivates in your body. The reason why shingles can develop in some people is not clear. It is more common in older adults due to lower immunity to infections.
Possible risk factors for shingles are a weakened immune system, emotional stress, aging, and undergoing cancer treatments or major surgery. The first symptoms are usually pain and burning, especially on one side of the body and it appears in small patches. The most characteristic signs of the rash are red spots, fluid-filled blisters that break easily, and itching. There are also people who suffer from symptoms beyond the pain and rash with shingles, such as fever, chills, headache, fatigue or muscle weakness.
Depending on the area where shingles appears, the symptoms may be different:
- Expensive. Shingles usually appear on one side of the back or chest. If the rash is near or in your ear, it can cause an infection that could lead to hearing loss, balance problems, and weak facial muscles. If it appears inside the mouth it can be very painful, since it makes it difficult to eat and your sense of taste can be affected.
- Eye. Shingles in and around the eye, known as ophthalmic herpes zoster , occurs in about 10-20% of people with this herpes. A blistering rash may appear on the eyelids, forehead, and sometimes on the tip or side of the nose. After the rash clears, you may still have eye pain from nerve damage.
- Back. Although shingles rashes usually develop around one side of the waist, a strip of blisters may appear along one side of the back or lower back.
- Buttocks. You can also get a shingles rash on your buttocks. It usually only affects one side of your body, so you may have a rash on your right buttock but not your left. As with other areas of the body, shingles on the buttocks can cause initial symptoms such as tingling, itching, or pain.
Which is the best treatment?
There is no cure for shingles, but there are treatments to control the symptoms. Antiviral medications can ease discomfort and reduce the duration of symptoms, particularly if they are started within 72 hours of the first sign of shingles. Over-the -counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen can be effective in relieving mild pain. Antibacterial agents can be given to treat bacterial infections from the shingles rash. What should never be taken are corticosteroids, as this can worsen the situation of shingles.
Shingles usually clears up within a few weeks and rarely recurs. If your symptoms have not subsided within 10 days, you should call a doctor for follow-up and reevaluation. However, a doctor must always diagnose and recommend the best treatment.
Is shingles contagious?
The truth is that it is not contagious , but the varicella-zoster virus that causes it can be transmitted to another person who has not had chickenpox and could develop the disease. You can’t get herpes from someone who has it, but we can get chickenpox . The virus is spread when someone comes in contact with a festering blister. It is not contagious if the blisters are covered or after they have crusted over.
To avoid spreading the varicella-zoster virus if you have shingles, be sure to keep the rash clean and covered. Don’t touch the blisters and wash your hands frequently. Being around people at risk, such as pregnant women and people with weak immune systems, should also be avoided.
The varicella-zoster virus that causes shingles is not spread through the air . You cannot spread it if someone with shingles coughs or sneezes near you, or shares a glass or silverware to eat. The only way the virus is contagious is if it comes into direct contact with an oozing blister from someone who has herpes.
Can it be prevented?
Vaccines can help prevent severe shingles symptoms or herpes complications from developing. All children should receive two doses of the chickenpox vaccine. Adults who have never had chickenpox should also receive this vaccine to prevent possible outbreaks. However, immunization does not mean that we will not get chickenpox, but it prevents it in 9 out of 10 people who get vaccinated.
Adults who are 50 years of age or older should receive a shingles vaccine, also known as a varicella-zoster immunization. This vaccine helps prevent the serious symptoms and complications associated with shingles. There are currently two vaccines available, Zostavax (live zoster vaccine) and Shingrix (recombinant zoster vaccine). These vaccines are recommended for adults over 50 years of age.
Zostavax is a live vaccine that contains a weakened form of the varicella-zoster virus. Although experts recommend the newer Shingrix vaccine because it is more than 90 percent effective and is more likely to last longer. And, although side effects of these vaccines, such as allergic reactions, are possible, there are no cases of transmission of the varicella-zoster virus from vaccinated people. So you can rest assured that you will not be contagious even if you get vaccinated.