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What are Shingles?

Shingles (also known as Zoster) is a re-visitation of the varicella-zoster Chicken Pox virus that happens years after the initial infection. This flare typically occurs during the adult years, usually in older individuals. “The chicken pox virus never actually leaves the body,” explains Dr. Miriam Hanson, board certified Dermatologist in Austin, Texas, “It takes up residence in our nerve roots after the skin rash and other sympotms of Chicken Pox subsides.” No one actually catches Shingles, it is the virus being reactivated, travelling up the nerve and causing blisters on the skin. This viral infection does not stem from “nervousness”, or a problem with one’s nerves. Rather, it can come on after stress, an illness, a shift in the immune system, or unfortunately, for not apparent or identifiable reason.

The Symptoms

Shingles starts as red splotches on the skin, that eventually turn into blisters. “The shingles blisters can vary in size,” notes Dr. Adam Mamelak, a board certified Dermatologist at Sanova Dermatology. These blisters will eventually heal, but can take as long as two to four weeks before they completely disappear. “Blisters can appear anywhere, but often show up on the chest and face,” Dr. Mamelak mentions. “They typically appear as clusters distributed in distinct stripes, known as dermatomes, on the skin. These stripes actually represent the distribution of the affected nerve in the skin.” These patches of blisters can be very painful, especially when in sensitive areas.

Is it Contagious?

If you have previously had the chicken pox virus you are not susceptible to catching it again. “Once your body has recovered from  chicken pox, you are basically immune to catching it again,” says Dr. Mamelak. If you have yet to have the virus, it is possible to contract it from a person with an active Shingles infection.

“this is extremely important,” claims Dr. Hanson, “especially for certain patient populations.” Infants and young children, individuals with suppressed immune systems, cancer patients and pregnant women. These individuals have a heightened chance of getting the virus had they not previously had it.

How Do You Treat Them?

Antiviral medications are available to treat a shingles infection. These medications, if taken appropriately, can help shorten the course of the infection and help diminish the severity of the virus effects. “Often, a primary concern with Shingles is the pain,” states Dr. Mamelak. “A pain reliever is one of the medications that can help alleviate issues involved with the virus,” he adds. “Often over-the-counter pain relievers can help to defuse the pain, but it can be necessary to have a prescribed medication.