What is Herpes Zoster?

Are you experiencing a painful skin rash with blisters in a particular part of you body? If so, then you might just be suffering from a rare viral skin disease called herpes zoster.

This skin disease commonly affects children through short-term illness chickenpox. However, herpes zoster can affect any age group, even those elderly individuals.

To learn more about this skin altering disease, this article will give you helpful information with regard to its characteristics, symptoms, prevention and treatments.

What is Herpes Zoster?

Herpes zoster is a viral disease caused by an initial infection of varicella zoster virus, which is more prominent in both children and adults through short-term chickenpox. This disease is commonly known as shingles or zona.

After the chickenpox has treated, the virus itself remains inside the body and may trigger the development of shingles. Shingles or zoster is a painful skin rash combined with blisters, in a particular part of the body, mostly at the back, chest and neck.

The bad news about varicella zoster virus is that, it can be inactive inside the body (through nerve cells) for some period of time, before any symptoms can emerge. So, most chickenpox survivors thought they were cleaned from the virus.

The latency can occur in years, even decades without symptoms. The virus may break out of nerve cells and will travel into nerve axons which causes viral infection of the skin.

It will affect the area of your skin called dermatome, which is supplied by one spinal nerve which causes the painful feeling. The rashes may heal within a period of time, but there are cases that the nerve pain becomes persistent for months or even years. This condition is called postherpetic neuralgia.

Read More: Varicella Zoster Virus – American Society for Microbiology

What Causes Herpes Zoster?

herpes zosterIf you have a weak immune system due to malnutrition, stress, injury, lack of physical activities and many others, then you are highly prone to varicella zoster virus.

People with strong immune system gets better faster compared to those with weak immune system. Plus, the disease will less likely to reoccur for people that is considerably healthy.

As aforementioned earlier, the herpes zoster may occur after the development of chickenpox. The virus will stay inactive through your nerve cells for a certain period of time. If you have a strong immune system, it will prevent the virus from starting up again, making it dormant forever.

Otherwise, if you have a weaker immune system, the virus may travel out of your nerve cells and starts to affect your skin. This can occur for the following possible reasons:

  • Aging
  • If you are taking medications
  • Existing diseases
  • Stress

Once the virus became active again, it will develop straight into shingles, not chickenpox. So if you had chickenpox before, then you have varicella zoster virus inside your body.

Herpes zoster can be passed to another person who hasn’t had chickenpox before or doesn’t have any chickenpox vaccine. However, if you experienced chickenpox in your childhoo, it is highly unlikely that you will get the virus from people with zona.

Read More: Herpes Zoster – WikiPedia

What are the Symptoms of Shingles?

Initial symptoms of herpes zoster includes headache, fever and malaise. These symptoms however are nonspecific, which could result in an incorrect diagnosis. Some cases presents sensitivity to light.

These symptoms are then followed by burning pain sensation, itching, oversensitivity or paresthesia, a pricking or numbness skin condition. The pain can either be mild or extreme depending in the affected dermatome. Serious cases of zona are described as agonizingly painful.

The rashes will turn into clusters of blisters which are filled with fluids and then crust over. The blisters will take an average of 3 weeks to heal, but scars are unavoidable.

Children with shingles are often painless due to their stronger immune system. But as we age, herpes zoster is much potent and tends to be more severe.

Some cases reports signs of dizziness, weakening, vision problems, memory lapses, long-term pain and many others. If you think that you are experiencing horrible symptoms with shingles, then it is time to consult your doctor for immediate medical treatment.

Herpes Zoster Prevention

The incidence rate of shingles ranges from 1 up to 3 cases per year in 1000 healthy individuals. This number increases up to 12 per year in 1000 people among individuals aged 65 years and above.

The only way to prevent herpes zoster is through vaccination, and the drug that is most known for vacirella zoster virus is Zostavax. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends zoster vaccine for people 60 years and older for shingles prevention.

Immunization are practiced all over the world except some parts in Europe and United Kingdom. One reason is that, people who have previously infected with herpes virus would benefit from occasional exposure to children’s shingles, which serves as an immunity booster. Only then that all citizens can be immunized.

Herpes Zoster Treatment Options

It is good to note that immunization is not designed for herpes zoster treatment. The most commonly recommended treatment is the combination of antiviral medications, antihistamines (itch relief) and pain relievers.

Antivirals prevents the virus from spreading and will reduce the severity and duration of shingles. The pain relievers are used to make the disease less painful. However, antiviral drugs are not designed to treat damaged nerves (postherpetic neuralgia), which is sometimes the end-product of herspes zoster.

If you have mild to moderate pain, analgesics can be of great help. Lotions can deal with rashes or blisters, giving you occasional relief while you are undergoing treatment.

Other treatment options includes the use of orally administered corticosteroids. Zostrix, a cream that contains capsaicin is also highly advisable to prevent postherpetic neuralgia from occuring.

Herpes Zoster Summary

Herpes Zoster or shingles is a painful viral skin disease which can be transmitted from person to person without immunity. The best way to prevent this disease is through vaccination while treatments do have variety of options.

It is best to have a good home care when suffering from shingles. Appropriate skin care is a must to avoid further infections and could help lessen the formation of scars.

As soon as you are diagnosed with shingles, follow your doctor’s treatment instructions to the letter. Any severe or extreme pain may cause for some alarm and you should tell your doctor about it right away. Over-the-counter drugs are always available for any relief you may require.


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