Herpes zoster, also known as shingles, is a viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person has chickenpox, the virus can remain dormant in the body for many years, and may reactivate later in life as shingles.
Symptoms of herpes zoster may include a painful rash or blisters that appear on one side of the body, along with fever, chills, and other flu-like symptoms. The rash may be accompanied by itching, burning, or tingling sensations, and may last for several weeks.
Treatment for herpes zoster typically involves antiviral medications, such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, or famciclovir, which can help to reduce the severity and duration of symptoms, as well as prevent complications such as postherpetic neuralgia, which is a type of chronic pain that can occur after the rash has healed.
In addition to antiviral medications, neuropathic pain relievers such as gabapentin may be prescribed. And over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen may be recommended to help reduce the pain and discomfort associated with herpes zoster. In some cases, topical creams or patches containing lidocaine or capsaicin may also be recommended to help relieve pain.
The long-term effects of herpes zoster can include:
- Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN): This is a condition where the pain from the shingles rash persists for weeks, months, or even years after the rash has healed. PHN can be debilitating and affect a person's quality of life.
- Scarring: Shingles can cause scarring if the rash is severe or if the blisters are scratched or picked at.
- Vision loss: If shingles occurs near the eyes, it can lead to inflammation of the cornea or retina, which can cause vision loss.
- Neurological problems: In rare cases, shingles can lead to inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), spinal cord (myelitis), or both (encephalomyelitis).
- Disseminated shingles: This is a rare but serious complication of shingles where the virus spreads throughout the body, leading to organ failure and even death.
It's important to seek prompt medical attention if you suspect you have herpes zoster, as early treatment can help to reduce the severity and duration of symptoms and prevent complications. In addition, it's important to practice good hygiene and to avoid contact with individuals who have not had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine, as herpes zoster can be highly contagious during the blister phase.