Herpes zoster ('shingles')

Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the virus that causes chicken pox. This is not the Herpes simplex virus that give you cold sores.

Description

You get headachy at first, and bright lights sometimes bother you. Then you get a rash, usually down one side of your face, neck, chest, or arm. It can be very uncomfortable, and start to blister. In a week or so, it scabs. Then it heals. Some people stay sore long after the rash is gone, however.

About a third of the world gets shingles, and most people are over 60 when it happens.

Treatment

Paracetamol controls the pain for most people. It’s a good idea to keep the rash clean and covered, to avoid secondary infection.

For severe outbreaks, where the rash attacks the eye, or for people with compromised immune systems, there is antiviral medication.

Think of Shingles as a kind of recurrence of chicken pox. It’s not infectious to anyone who has ever had chicken pox. But it can give chicken pox to someone who never had the disease. In children, that’s not much of a problem. Adult chicken pox can be quite severe, however. So adults who have not had the disease should not come into contact with people with Shingles.

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