What causes shingles?
- Varicella-zoster virus.
- After chickenpox infection the virus lies dormant in the nervous system until, for some reason, it becomes reactivated
Symptoms of shingles
- Shingles infection usually presents with pain, burning, or tingling on a small section of one side of the trunk .
- A few days after the pain has begun, a red rash will start to develop that is characterised by fluid-filled blisters
- These blisters can be itchy and will burst and eventually crust over
- Systemic symptoms like light sensitivity, fever, and fatigue may also be present
- Note that it is not uncommon for shingles pain to exist without the development of a rash
- Shingles symptoms normally last between 2 and 6 weeks
- This occurs through direct contact with fluid that is released from blisters when they burst
- For this reason, a person suffering from shingles is infective from the appearance of the first blister until the time when all blisters have crusted over
- Shingles is less contagious than chickenpox
- If a person has never had chickenpox before they may develop this condition if in direct contact with fluid from the blisters of a person suffering from shingles because varicella-zoster is responsible for both infections
- Remember: It is not possible to catch shingles from chickenpox but it is possible to catch chickenpox from shingles
Complications of shingles infection
- Post-herpetic neuralgia - severe pain that can last for many weeks, months or even years
- Ocular problems
- Patients who come to the pharmacy with a suspected shingles infection should be urged to see their GP.
- Whilst there is no cure for shingles, prompt antiviral treatment (eg. aciclovir, famciclovir and valaciclovir) can reduce recovery time and minimise the risk and severity of complications
- Analgesic medicines or those used in the treatment of neuropathic pain (eg. amitriptyline and gabapentin) should be considered if nerve pain is significant.