Shingles: Causes, symptoms and treatment


SHINGLES, also called herpes zoster, is a viral disease that can cause a painful, blistering rash, which usually appears on one side of the body. It’s caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. About one in three Americans will develop shingles at some point in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). An estimated 1 million cases occur in the U.S. each year, mostly in older adults.
Although the rash usually clears up within a few weeks, some people may experience lingering pain for months or even years afterwards, according to the CDC. But there are vaccines to prevent shingles, as well as treatments that may reduce the risk of complications from the disease.
Shingles symptoms usually develop on one side of the body or face, and appear in a limited area, rather than all over, according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA). Symptoms include:
A rash of fluid-filled blisters. Most commonly, this rash appears as a “stripe” around one side of the torso. Tingling, itching or burning or shooting pain. People may develop these symptoms even before the rash appears. Skin that’s sensitive to the touch
Other symptoms can include fever, headache, chills and upset stomach, according to the CDC. Blisters from the shingles rash usually scab over after 7 to 10 days, and the rash clears up within 2 to 4 weeks, the CDC says. Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus — the same virus that causes chickenpox, according to the CDC. After a person has chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in the body’s nerve tissues and can “reactivate” years later to cause shingles. Shingles itself cannot spread person-to-person. But it’s possible for a person with shingles to spread the varicella zoster virus, which would cause chickenpox in someone who has never had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine, according to the CDC.
Still, shingles is less contagious than chickenpox, and the risk of spreading the virus is low if the rash is covered, the CDC says. Anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk of developing shingles. But some factors increase the risk of getting shingles, according to the NIA. These include: Advanced age: The risk of developing shingles increases with age, and about half of all cases occur in people ages 60 and older. Weakened immune system: People with diseases or conditions that weakened the immune system, such as HIV, cancer or cancer treatments, are at greater risk of shingles.

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