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Herpes Zoster or Shingles – What is It?

Herpes zoster (widely known as shingles) is a painful viral disease caused by chickenpox virus (varicella zoster virus). This virus lives inactive in the nerves of the people, who have had a chickenpox. Its reactivation may be caused by emotional stress, aging processes, and weak immune system; so people at the age of 50 and older as well as those having cancer, leukemia, lymphoma, and AIDS, are the most prone to this disease. It has been proved that continuous and uncontrolled stress to the skin (punching, biting, and scratching in the most sensitive areas) may cause herpes zoster too.

If a person has had chickenpox, he cannot be infected with herpes zoster virus, because it remains in his organism all life long. At the same time, the virus can be transmitted from the infected person to those who have not had chickenpox and this may lead to the development of chickenpox, but not shingles.

Herpes zoster begins with burning and itching pain in a limited area of the skin. This happens due to the damage of the nerve by the virus. Usually it is located on one side of the body and involves the nerves of this part. Trunk and buttocks are the most common places for shingles, but the virus can also appear on the legs, arms, and face.

The severe pain continues for 3-5 days, and then it is followed by small red rash that appears on the skin. After this the rash changes into blisters – small bubbles filled with liquid. Two or three weeks later the blisters begin to peel off and disappear. All these symptoms are accompanied with headache, fever and the general feeling of weakness. Herpes pain may cause depression and problems with sleeping.

In some cases herpes zoster may not be accompanied with rash. This condition is called a zoster sine herpete. It is more dangerous and may have severe complications as the viruses destroy all the levels of the nervous system.

Generally, herpes zoster disappears on its own and doesn’t cause any serious problems. In certain cases, however, if not properly treated, shingles may result in severe complications.

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Herpes zoster may sometimes lead to a post-herpetic neuralgia, the most common complication of this disease. It can be described as a continuous pain in the place the shingles were situated. This pain may last from a month to years and cause temporary disability. Shingles negative influence on eyes may cause glaucoma, scarring, and even blindness. Face affection by herpes zoster may have such serious consequences as facial paralysis, loss of hearing and taste.

Taking into account complications mentioned above, it is not difficult to realize the importance of shingles prevention and treatment. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disease. To prevent the shingles, doctors recommend avoiding contact with herpes infected people, especially if one’s immune system is suppressed. In traditional medicine, herpes zoster is treated with anti-viral and anti-inflammatory preparations that are aimed at pain and inflammation reduction.


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