Shingles - Herpes Zoster
Shingles – Herpes Zoster
Shingles, or herpes zoster, is an infectious disease which is caused by the virus varicella-zoster from the group herpes virus. Similar to other diseases in this group, this infection develops in two stages where the first stage typically occurs in children, commonly known as chicken pox. This disease develops only once in a lifetime, in contrast to shingles, which has a second stage of infection and can occasionally reoccur.
Development of Shingles
Shingles can develop at any age, though it is most commonly found in older people, when the course of the illness is typically more painful and more severe. Because there is effective treatment available, it is in the patient's best interest to visit a physician and take the required medications, should there be any suspicion of shingles.
Symptoms of Shingles
Symptoms of shingles include small painful blisters that typically appear on the skin, though these appear only if the patient has had childhood chickenpox. After the skin has healed, varicella zoster migrates along the spinal cord to nerve nodules, or in the head for long-term survival. When favourable conditions occur, such as reduced immunity, the virus travels along the nerve fibers, causing small blisters in the areas where the nerves pass under the skin. This is usually coupled with severe pain which may persist until the skin clears up. Typical locations for the development of shingles are the intercostal nerves in the chest, and some parts of the face around the first branch of the trigeminal nerve, near the eye. Because blisters appear gradually, we can find them in different stages of development on the same patch of skin. Shingles last 2 to 4 weeks, after which the blisters dry out and form scabs, often leaving scar. The development of shingles can cause a variety of symptoms, often misleading doctors to diagnosing acute appendicitis or biliary colic instead. Typical symptoms are severe pain in the affected side of the body, occasionally accompanied by a fever and headache.
Transmission of Shingles
The virus Varicella zoster is one of the most common human illnesses. In recent years it's number of cases has been rising and is estimated to affect more than 90% of the population, without regard for age or gender. Transmission occurs by direct contact with infected bodily fluids such as saliva, ejaculate or intercourse. There is also a higher risk of infection from a person with chickenpox. The risk of transmission from a patient already affected by shingles is much lower and the transmission from a patient with fully developed shingles is not possible, therefore it is not necessary to limit contact with patients that have shingles. People who have not yet had chickenpox are more at risk of contracting varicella zoster virus for the first time. Higher care is necessary with pregnant women who could put the fetus at risk should they come in contact with the virus. The virus can be transmitted through a so-called transplant path from the mother to the fetus. However, it is most dangerous for the mother.
Complications of Shingles
As in other illnesses, shingles can have a whole host of complications. The most common complication is a bacterial super infection, secondary bacteria to the blisters. This is mostly found in older people and in patients with an impaired immune system. Other complications are persistent neuralgia and severe burning or stabbing pain which can last even after the shingles has been healed. Damage to the eye, in the form of swelling of the cornea or corneal perforation can also occur. The concern is with more serious complications that can include meningitis, encephalitis or paralysis of the facial nerve.
Diagnosis of Shingles
It is not difficult to diagnose shingles. A diagnosis stems from s clinical examination the basis of which is a physical exam. The anamnesis should focus on the history of childhood illnesses and the characteristic of the symptoms before the blisters developed. In case of doubt, it is possible to draw blood which will show if the virus is present.
Treatment of Shingles
The treatment of shingles is in the overall administration of antivirals. This treatment helps to significantly reduce the healing process of shingles and significantly reduce pain and other unpleasant complications. The main goal for the affectivity of the medication is its timely administration and accurate compliance with all therapeutic measures. This is very important especially if the symptoms are severe, the patient's condition is complicated by another dangerous illness or the patient has an impaired immune system. Apart from antiviral drugs, the patient also receives anti-inflammatory cream and pain medication that help his state of health as well as the patient's psyche. An essential part of the treatment of shingles is overall rest, avoiding stressful situations, and avoiding major physical activity.
Prevention of Shingles
There is no effective prevention against shingles. There are several vaccines on the market that have a relatively high success rate, especially against severe cases of the illness. Their main goal is to minimalize possible consequences of the illness. As an effective preventative method of shingles we can strengthen our immune system, which is done by limiting stress and fatigue, getting plenty of fresh air and a balanced diet.