The virus that causes chickenpox, varicella-zoster virus, becomes dominant in your nerves when the chickenpox heals. After many years, the virus can reactivate. Trigger factors like cold and stress trigger reactivation. The active form of the virus then causes shingles. Shingle infections, like chickenpox, is a skin condition characterized by a rash. However, the rash of a shingle infection is slightly different from the chickenpox rash; it is painful. The level of pain will depend on the severity of your infection. Severe shingle infections are generally more painful than mild to moderate infections. The condition can have a feeling of a burning sensation, stabbing pain, or numbness. A common symptom of the rash that characterizes both conditions is itchiness.
Another symptom unique to shingle infections is large blisters containing fluid. These blisters appear after a few days of the emergence of the rash.
Stages of shingle infections
Generally, the clinical presentation of the infection occurs in three stages:
The pre-eruptive phase
In this phase, your skin will become extremely sensitive on one side of your body. The increased sensitivity can last up to 10 days but commonly lasts 48 hours in many patients. You will then start itching and feeling some pain or a tingling sensation. In some patients, the pain can trigger other symptoms like headaches, increased sensitivity to light, and fatigue.
The acute eruptive stage
At this stage, it becomes evident that you have a shingle infection. The skin becomes red or develops erythema, commonly known as a rash. Vesicles or blisters will start to appear at the base of the rash. The blisters contain clear fluid. The fluid softens the skin covering the blister, making the blister easily rupture and release the contents. At this point, the pain is severe. The open lesion heals in about a month and leaves a scar. However, you will experience a reduction in symptoms like itching within 10 to 15 days.
The chronic stage
As the name suggests, the stage is characterized by complications of the infection. A majority of patients in this stage complain of persistent pain after one or more months of complete healing. The condition is known as post-herpetic neuralgia. The pain is confined to the affected areas.
Post-herpetic neuralgia is not the only complication that patients develop with shingle infections. Other complications include brain inflammation, vision loss, and hearing loss.
Are shingle infections contagious?
The infection itself is not contagious. This means that you cannot spread a shingle infection to another person. However, you can spread the varicella-zoster virus. People at risk of getting the virus from you are those who have never had chickenpox in their lifetime. Adults, teens, and children who have never suffered from chickenpox are all capable of getting the virus. The virus spreads through the sharing of personal items such as towels, clothing, and shaving razors. The oozing blisters contain the virus, which remains on these items. It then infects other people using the items. Once it infects a person, it causes chickenpox instead of shingle infections.
When is shingles contagious?
Shingle infections are contagious when you are in the acute eruptive stage. At this stage, blisters easily burst and ooze. When the blisters are open, they form lesions, which are contagious to anyone who comes into contact with them and has never gotten chickenpox infection. The virus can also spread through personal items that have come in contact with the lesion. When the lesion heals and forms a scab, the infection is no longer contagious. Covering the blisters and observing proper hygiene also make the infection less contagious.
How do you prevent the spread of the virus?
- Avoid shaving if the infection affects hairy parts of your body. Shaving can burst open the blisters and form lesions.
- Use a shingles cream with an antiviral agent when you have oozing blisters.
- Proper hygiene and covering of the blisters are also important measures. Proper hygiene includes thoroughly washing the affected area, properly drying it, applying the most effective shingles cream, and covering it with a bandage. These prevent the oozing fluid from coming in contact with several surfaces and items.
- Avoid sharing personal items when you have an infection.
- Avoid contact with people at a higher risk of getting the infection, such as those with a weak immune system. These can also include infants who have not received a vaccination against chickenpox infection, low birthweight babies, and premature babies. The virus is also dangerous in pregnant women because it can lead to issues like pneumonia.
- Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and running water after touching an oozing blister.
- Avoid touching the oozing blisters. The blisters are itchy, and therefore, this may be hard to achieve. However, you can buy a shingles cream with an antihistamine that will help relieve the itching. The antihistamine reduces the production and secretion of histamines, which are chemicals that trigger itching.
- People who have not had a shingle infection vaccine should get a vaccination against the infection. The chickenpox vaccine is different from the shingles vaccine. Shingle infection vaccination lowers your risk of getting infected. The vaccine also reduces the probability of developing complications of the virus.
The treatment of shingle infections encompasses the use of an effective shingles cream. The most effective shingles cream should have an antiviral agent, anti-inflammatory agent, a pain-relieving agent, and an antihistamine agent. These three are essential in relieving symptoms of itching, redness, and pain. The antiviral agent stops the virus from multiplying and makes the condition less contagious.