What is shingles?
Shingles, also called herpes zoster or zoster, is a painful skin rash caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chicken pox. Once you have had chicken pox, the virus can stay in your nervous system for many years. For reasons that are not fully understood, the virus may become active again later in life and cause shingles. Age, increased stress, and problems with the immune system may increase your chances of getting shingles. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are an estimated 1 million cases of shingles each year.
What are the symptoms?
The shingles rash is usually on one side of the body, in a line along a nerve pathway. The rash begins as a cluster of small red spots that often blister. The rash can be painful. Shingles rashes can last 7-14 days, but in some people the nerve pain can last for months following. For most people, the pain associated with the rash lessens as it heals. Other symptoms of shingles can include fever, headache, chills, and upset stomach. Shingles is not contagious except to people who have never had chicken pox or who have not been vaccinated against chicken pox. If exposed to shingles, these people may develop chicken pox, but not shingles.
What is the treatment?
It is important to prevent shingles from developing before it starts by getting the Zostavax shingles vaccine. A single dose of the shingles vaccine is recommended for adults 60 years of age and older. If you believe you have developed shingles, visit a Take Care Health Provider immediately for a complete evaluation. In particular, if a shingles rash develops on the face, it is important to see a healthcare provider immediately to prevent eye-lid swelling, permanent vision loss, hearing loss, and alteration of taste sensation. In many cases, antiviral medication may be prescribed within 3 days of symptoms appearing, and other medications such as corticosteroids may be prescribed based on the severity of the rash. Recommendations may also be provided to help manage pain.
If you believe you have a medical emergency, please call 911.