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Shingles

What are Shingles?

Shingles are an outbreak of rash or blisters on the skin that is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. The varicella-zoster virus also causes chicken pox.

Shingles is also called herpes zoster.

Who is at Risk of Developing Shingles?

Anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk of developing shingles. When the varicella-zoster virus reactivates, the virus moves back down the long nerve fibers that extend from the sensory cell bodies to the skin and cause the characteristic blisters of shingles.

For most people, the lesions heal, the pain subsides within 3 to 5 weeks, and the blisters leave no scars.  However, shingles is a serious threat in immunosuppressed individuals — for example, those with HIV infection or who are receiving cancer treatments that can weaken their immune systems.  People who receive organ transplants are also vulnerable to shingles because they are given drugs that suppress the immune system.

Symptoms of Shingles

The first symptom of shingles is a burning or tingling pain, or sometimes numbness, in or under the skin. Other symptoms include fever, chills, headache, or upset stomach. After several days, a rash of small fluid-filled blisters, reminiscent of chickenpox, appears on reddened skin. The pain associated with shingles can be intense and is often described as "unrelenting."

What Causes Shingles?

Shingles is caused by reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus.

Can Shingles be Treated?

Yes. The severity and duration of shingles can be significantly reduced by immediate treatment with antiviral drugs. Some common antiviral drugs used to treat shingles are acyclovir, valcyclovir, and famcyclovir. Antiviral drugs may also help stave off the painful after-effects of shingles known as postherpetic neuralgia

For most people, the lesions heal, the pain subsides within 3 to 5 weeks, and the blisters leave no scars.  However, shingles is a serious threat in immunosuppressed individuals and people who receive organ transplants.

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