Shingles is also known as Herpes Zoster. It is a disease that plagues many older adults and people of any age group from the general population. This condition affects those with weak immune systems and debilitating overall health.
According to the Center for Disease Control, 1 out of every 3 Americans will get shingles in their lifetime. Approximately 1 million people are estimated to contract shingles every year in the United States.
Anyone who previously had chickenpox is at risk for getting this disease regardless of their respective ages. Those at risk include children, young adults, and the elderly. People over the age of 60 years old are more likely to have a Shingles outbreak. In general, the risk factor for developing shingles increases as the population grows older due to the aging process, which gradually weakens the immune system.
What is Shingles?
Shingles or Herpes Zoster is a viral infection that affects nerves and skin tissues in the involved area. The disease causes a painful rash or blisters that sometimes oozes. The bodily fluid that oozes out of the blister is highly contagious. Individuals should avoid coming in direct contact with it to prevent contracting the disease.
Before someone develops Shingles, some early warning signs may appear. They include pain and discomfort that may feel like numbness and tingling at the indicated site, usually before a rash appears. Some individuals may also experience a sharp shooting pain at the site.
A rash may or may not occur. If a rash does not appear, the infection has not been caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Instead, it has been caused by the Zoster Sine Herpes Virus. All the Shingles symptoms will continue to develop with the Zoster Herpes Virus; thus, the two diagnoses are referred to as Shingles, and treatment follows the same path of Shingles treatment.
Another form of Shingles called Widespread Shingles may occur. In this form of Shingles, rashes may appear throughout the body. Widespread Shingles accounts for 20% of all shingles cases in the United States.
If a rash appears in the face or around the eye, you may have a form of shingles known as Ophthalmic Shingles. It affects the nerves in the face and may hinder facial muscle movements, eyelid movements and cause bloodshot eyes.
You may develop a fever, a cold sweat, feel nauseous and sick, blocked sinuses, stomach pain, general malaise, discomfort, and other flu-like symptoms as the body attempts to get rid of the Herpes Zoster virus.
Lack of concentration with decreased mood, headaches, low energy, and dehydration may follow along with tiredness, achiness, and other infections.
What causes Shingles?
The same virus that causes chickenpox also causes Shingles. This virus is called the Varicella-Zoster virus, which is part of the Varicella viruses contributing to oral herpes and genitalia herpes.
Shingles occur because of a reactivation of the chickenpox virus, which remains dormant in the body’s nerve cells after an attack of chickenpox.
The virus is triggered later in the person’s life. It commonly occurs when the body is under significant stress due to debilitating illnesses or a weakened immune system due to natural aging.
Is Shingles Contagious?
Yes. Shingles can spread when a person comes into direct contact with the fluid in the blisters or rash of an infected individual. The secondary person who becomes contaminated with the infected person’s blister fluids will have a chickenpox outbreak. They will not have a Shingles outbreak.
Who can get Shingles?
Anyone at any age can get Shingles if they already experienced a chickenpox outbreak. Anyone who had varicella vaccination can also develop Shingles. However, Herpes Zoster is more commonly seen in the elderly population over 60 years old. People with weak immune systems and immune system compromising illnesses are at risk for having a Shingles outbreak.
Anyone having any of the below criteria is at risk for developing Shingles:
- Anyone who has cancer, namely leukemia and lymphoma
- Individuals diagnosed with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
- People who previously had a bone marrow or solid organ transplant. These include the kidneys, the heart, the liver, and the lungs transplant recipients
- Individuals who are taking immunosuppressive medications, including steroids, chemotherapy, or transplant-related immunosuppressive drugs
- Women are at higher risk for developing Herpes Zoster more than men
What complications are associated with Shingles?
Roughly 1 to 4% of people with Herpes Zoster get hospitalized for complications, especially those over the age of 50 years old. Around 30% of all people hospitalized with Herpes Zoster have compromised or suppressed immune systems. About 1 in 10 adults with Shingles develop Postherpetic Neuralgia (PHN). Pain that occurs in the post rash area for more than 90 days. Approximately 96 deaths occur each year, with Herpes Zoster being the underlying cause.
Which part(s) of the body are affected?
Shingles can occur anywhere on the human body. During an outbreak, it presents a single line of blisters or rash that bands around the left or the right side of the torso. It may occur on the back, side of the face, and near the eyes at the bridge of the nose.
How to prevent catching Shingles?
You can avoid catching Shingles by having a healthy immune system. Avoid sharing towels and clothing. Keep a safe distance from colleagues and family members who have symptoms of Herpes Zoster.
What steps to take if you have symptoms of Shingles?
You should contact your medical provider if you experience symptoms of Shingles. You may apply cooling and soothing lotions to try and ease the discomfort of the itchy, painful rash or blisters. Avoid scratching the affected areas since this will break the blisters, worsen the condition and lead to additional infections.
What types of treatments are available?
As the Shingles condition brings a considerable amount of discomfort and stress to the sufferer, a common question asked would be “What is the most effective shingles cream?”. There is no definitive cure for Shingles. Infected individuals can manage the disease. Thus, creating some level of comfort and speeding up the recovery process. Shingles is a self-limiting disease that the body will eventually cure itself from by fighting off the infection. However, there are various creams, lotions, gels, a vaccine, medications, and natural treatments that can help improve the symptoms of Herpes Zoster.