Shingles is a painful skin condition in which rashes are caused by a virus known as the varicella zoster. The condition is also known as herpes zoster. Shingles is characterized by rashes which appear as a band, strip or is concentrated in a small area on the face or body. It has been estimated that around 1 million people in the US have been affected by shingles.
Causes of Shingles:
Shingles is the condition which affects older people mostly. Shingles is often seen as an after effect of chicken pox. The dormant chicken pox virus in the nerve roots of an adult who has already had a bout of chicken pox is sometimes activated due to numerous conditions such as stress, injuries or medications. A weak immune system in the adult will also allow the chicken pox virus to appear as shingles. It is to be noted that chicken pox virus will present itself as shingles in the adult and not as chicken pox.
Symptoms of Shingles:
Shingles starts with flu symptoms and then itching develops in the area. The itching is followed by a rash which changes into blisters. The blisters then burst from which fluid oozes out. The blisters then dry and crust over. The blisters take anytime between two to four weeks to heal with some experiencing scars after healing.
Treatment of Shingles:
Treatment of shingles includes antiviral medicines and pain relievers. It is also important that the skin sores are kept clean.
Is Shingles Contagious?
People above the age of 50 with a weak immune system are likely to get shingles if they have had chicken pox in their life earlier. To prevent the likely occurrence of shingles in a person who has had an episode of chicken pox earlier a vaccine Zostavax is advised. This vaccine also helps in reducing the severity of shingles if it occurs.
For adults who have never had chicken pox it is advisable that they be administered with the varicella vaccine. This offers protection from chicken pox and shingles. Though shingles can never spread from one person to another there is always a possibility of the virus to spread from the shingles affected person to another healthy person who has never had chicken pox. However, the person would develop chicken pox and not shingles though they would be susceptible to shingles in future.
The only way shingles is spread is through the fluid from the blisters. Also a person can spread the infection only when they are in the blister phase. If the shingles is in any stage before or after the blister phase it is not contagious. Also there is no chance that shingles can be spread after crusts develop on the blisters. Shingles can be prevented from spreading even during the blister phase by keeping the blisters covered to reduce the chance of the fluid infecting others. People with shingles should also avoid pregnant women, infants and people with reduced immunity due to chronic illness or medical treatments.
Since shingles is contagious only during the blister phase it is considered less contagious than chicken pox.
Though most people with shingles are cured of the disease without any major complications scarring is possible in some case while sores over eyes can cause vision problems. Serious conditions like brain inflammation, pneumonia can occur as a side effect of shingles though rarely. Like other diseases it is advisable to treat shingles and take adequate measures to prevent the repetition of the infection and the infection from spreading to others.