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The Virus Varicella-Zoster Causes Chickenpox and Shingles

Updated on April 15, 2013

Shingles is Caused by Varicella-Zoster

People, who had the chickenpox as children or adults and have recovered are at risk of Shingles later in life. Shingles is caused by the virus that causes chickenpox. Children can get shingles as well, but mostly people aged 60 years or older are at the most risk. The risks for shingles increases with age. Shingles is treatable and can be prevented. Shingles can be mild or extremely painful. Shingles is the most contagious when the blisters appear and fill with pus and break open. The blisters become open sores that ooze pus until the sores dry up and crust over. The crust falls off and there is usually no scarring. The disease is extremely contagious when the sores are oozing and care should be taken to avoid touching the sores until they heal up and disappear.

Shingles is an infection caused by the Varicella-Zoster virus that is the same virus that caused chicken pox. The virus lies dormant in nerve cells near the brain and spinal cord after a person has had the chicken pox and for some unknown reason the virus becomes active again causing a disease called shingles. Shingles is also known as Herpes Zoster.


The Shingles Virus
The Shingles Virus | Source

Progression of Shngles

Shingles starts when a small cluster of bumps appear. 1. the bumps turn into blisters, 2. the blisters resemble chickenpox lesions, the blisters fill with pus, 3. crust over then disappear, this takes about 4 to 5 weeks, a painful condition called post-herpetic neuralgia sometimes occurs and is thought to be caused by damage to the nerves, 5. can last from weeks to years after the rash disappears.

The Varicella Virus and Shingles

  1. The varicella-Zoster virus can cause "Shingles", and it is the same virus that causes "Chicken pox." Anyone can get shingles as long as they had chicken pox. The virus lies dormant in nerve tissue near the spine and brain. For reasons unknown, the virus can reactivate causing pain, redness of the skin, itching, burning, blistering and red skin rashes. The virus can become active after years of lying dormant in the nerve cells. People in any age group can get shingles, but most likely people who are older than 60 are most likely to get the condition. Persons who are most at risk to getting shingles are people who had the chicken pox before the age of one, people with compromised immune systems which are weakened by diseases or medications. The older a person gets the more the risk of shingles.
  2. Shingles can be extremely painful. Shingles is usually on one side of the body or face causing pain, burning, itching, or tingling of the skin. Pain, burning or tingling usually appear before a red rash appears. After the red rash appears, blisters filled with pus form and then they break open as sores that ooze. This is the infectious stage of shingles. The blisters then dry up and form a crust. Then the crust falls off. There is usually no scaring. Often shingles will only occur once, but it is possible for it to reoccur.
  3. The rash usually appears in a small area near the spine and extends around the body to the belly or chest. The rash may involve the face, eyes, mouth, and ears. The symptoms related to shingles may include: abdominal pain, fever and chills, Headache, feeling generally ill, genital sores, joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes-swollen glands. Shingles can affect a nerve in the face. It can cause pain, muscle weakness, and a red rash that may affect different parts of the face. Some of the muscles in the face may be difficult to move. If shingles is near an eye prompt medical attention should be sought. If left untreated the shingles virus can damage the eye and can cause blindness. The shingles virus can cause droopy eyelid (ptosis), hearing loss, loss of eye motion, taste and visual problems.

Shingles-Herpes Zoster

Chicken Pox and Shingles

  1. About 1 out of 3 people in the U.S. will develop shingles. Children can get shingles, as well, but the group of people most likely to get the condition are the people who are age 60 and older. The risk increases with age. Men and women age 60 and older make up about half of the cases of shingles. The shingles virus is not the same virus that causes Genital Herpes which is a sexually transmitted disease.
  2. Shingles is not life threatening, but it can be very painful and can have complications like recurring, bacterial skin infections, blindness (if it occurs near an eye), deafness, encephalitis, sepsis (blood infection) in persons with weakened immune systems. Ramsey Hunt Syndrome is another complication that may occur if shingles affects the nerves in the face.
  3. People who suspect that they may have shingles should seek prompt medical attention, especially if they have a weakened immune system. If the symptoms persist or get worse a person should get prompt medical attention from their health care provider. If shingles occurs around an eye prompt emergency care is necessary to prevent damage to the eye and to prevent blindness.

Shingles: The Virus Awakens Later on in Life

Treatment for Shingles

  1. Tests are rarely needed to diagnosis shingles. The health care provider looks at the skin for signs of shingles and asks questions about the past medical history of the patient. A skin sample is taken to see if the skin is infected with the virus. Blood tests may show an increase in white blood cells and antibodies to the chicken pox virus, but the tests can not confirm that the rash is caused by the shingles virus.
  2. Treatment includes antiviral drugs to reduce pain, to shorten the course of the disease, and to prevent complications. The antiviral drugs used to treat shingles include: Acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir. Acyclovir should be started within 72 hours of feeling the pain and burning associated with shingles, and before the blisters appear. Acyclovir is usually given in pill form and in high dosages. The antiviral drug may need to be administered through an IV for some people.

Chicken Pox

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