Herpes Zoster: Causes & Complications

Herpes Zoster

Herpes Zoster Overview Herpes zoster (or simply zoster), commonly known as shingles and also known as zona, is a viral disease characterized by a painful..

Herpes Zoster OverviewHerpes Zoster

Herpes zoster (or simply zoster), commonly known as shingles and also known as zona, is a viral disease characterized by a painful skin rash with blisters in a limited area on one side of the body (left or right), often in a stripe. The initial infection with varicella zoster virus (VZV) causes the acute, short-lived illness chickenpox which generally occurs in children and young adults. Once an episode of chickenpox has resolved, the virus is not eliminated from the body and can go on to cause herpes zoster often many years after the initial infection. Herpes zoster is not the same disease as herpes simplex, despite the name similarity; both the varicella zoster virus and herpes simplex virus belong to the same viral subfamily Alphaherpesvirinae.

Reactivation of varicella-zoster virus (VZV) that has remained dormant within dorsal root ganglia, often for decades after the patient’s initial exposure to the virus in the form of varicella (chickenpox), results in herpes zoster (shingles). Although it is usually a self-limited dermatomal rash with pain, herpes zoster can be far more serious; in addition, acute cases often lead to postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).

Are you contagious?

A person with shingles can pass the varicella-zoster virus to anyone who isn’t immune to chickenpox. This usually occurs through direct contact with the open sores of the shingles rash. Once infected, the person will develop chickenpox, however, not shingles.

Chickenpox can be dangerous for some groups of people. Until your shingles blisters scab over, you are contagious and should avoid physical contact with:

♦  Anyone who has a weak immune system

♦  Newborns

♦  Pregnant women

Herpes Zoster Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of shingles usually affect only a small section of one side of your body. These signs and symptoms may include:

♦  Pain, burning, numbness or tingling

♦  A red rash that begins a few days after the pain

♦  Fluid-filled blisters that break open and crust over

♦  Itching

Some people also experience:

♦  Fever and chills

♦  General achiness

♦  Headache

♦  Fatigue

Pain is usually the first symptom of shingles. For some, it can be intense. Depending on the location of the pain, it can sometimes be mistaken for a symptom of problems affecting the heart, lungs or kidneys. Some people experience shingles pain without ever developing the rash.

Most commonly, the shingles rash develops as a stripe of blisters that wraps around either the left or right side of your torso. Sometimes the shingles rash occurs around one eye or on one side of the neck or face.

Herpes Zoster Treatment

The aims of treatment are to limit the severity and duration of pain, shorten the duration of a shingles episode, and reduce complications. Symptomatic treatment is often needed for the complication of postherpetic neuralgia. However, a study on untreated herpes zoster shows that, once the rash has cleared, postherpetic neuralgia is very rare in people under 50 and wears off in time; in older people the pain wore off more slowly, but even in people over 70, 85% were pain free a year after their shingles outbreak.

Herpes Zoster Complications

Complications from shingles can include:

♦  Postherpetic neuralgia. For some people, shingles pain continues long after the blisters have cleared. This condition is known as postherpetic neuralgia, and it occurs when damaged nerve fibers send confused and exaggerated messages of pain from your skin to your brain.

♦  Vision loss. Shingles in or around an eye (ophthalmic shingles) can cause painful eye infections that may result in vision loss.

♦  Neurological problems. Depending on which nerves are affected, shingles can cause an inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), facial paralysis, or hearing or balance problems.

♦  Skin infections. If shingles blisters aren’t properly treated, bacterial skin infections may develop.

Herpes Zoster look like

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