Herpes Zoster – Risks, Symptoms and Treatment

Much is said about herpes zoster, but do you really know what it is? There are approximately 1 million new cases estimated each year in countries such as the United States.

According to research, it is estimated that at 85 years of age, 50% of people will have had an episode of herpes zoster at some point in their lives. Although most people who develop herpes zoster have only one episode, there are some who develop recurrent cases of the disease.

What is Herpes Zoster?

Herpes zoster, popularly known as shingles , is a viral infection that causes a painful rash. Although it can occur anywhere on the body, the lesions usually appear as a single band of blisters that surrounds the left or right side of the torso.

Causes of Shingles

Herpes zoster is caused by the Varicella-Zoster Virus (VZV) , the same that causes chickenpox ( chickenpox ). After it has attacked the person, the virus is inactive in the nervous tissue near the spinal cord and brain. Years later, it can reactivate causing herpes zoster. However, not everyone who has chickenpox will develop herpes.

Varicella-Zoster Virus is part of a group of viruses called Human Herpes Viruses (HSV), which includes those that cause labial sores and genital herpes . The reason for shingles is not clear, but it can happen due to reduced immunity because of aging. It is more common in older adults and in people who have weakened immune systems.

Although it is not a fatal condition, shingles can be very painful . Vaccines help to reduce the risk of infection, while early treatment helps to shorten the duration of the disease, decreasing the chance of complications.

Symptoms of Herpes Zoster

The signs and symptoms of shingles usually affect a small part of one side of the body. These signs and symptoms can include:

  • Pain, burning, numbness or tingling
  • Touch sensitivity
  • Red rash that starts a few days after the pain
  • Liquid-filled bubbles that pop and peel
  • Itch

Some people also experience:

  • Fever and chills
  • Headache
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Fatigue
  • Bad to be
  • Sickness
  • Body pain
  • Swollen lymph glands

Pain is usually the first symptom of the disease. For some, it can be intense. Depending on the location of the pain, it can sometimes be confused with symptoms of heart, lung or kidney problems. Some people experience herpes zoster pain without developing a rash.

Although herpes zoster has the trunk as its main point, skin rash often occurs around an eye, on one side of the neck or face.

Is Herpes Zoster Contagious?

A person with herpes zoster can pass the virus to others through direct contact with the fluid from the active bacterial lesions. Therefore, susceptible individuals should avoid contact with people who have the condition, especially pregnant women, those who have never had chickenpox and individuals with compromised immune systems.

It cannot be transmitted by coughing or sneezing, and it is not contagious before the blisters appear. Once the herpes rash has dried and developed peels, it is no longer considered contagious .

There are some important points to consider when discussing the varicella zoster virus and its transmission. If a person who has never had chickenpox or has not had the vaccine has direct contact with herpes zoster rash fluid , they may develop chickenpox, but will not develop herpes zoster immediately.

It is possible, however, that she will develop herpes zoster later in life, as well as others who have already been exposed to the virus and developed chickenpox.

Risk Factors for Herpes Zoster

Anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles. Most adults in Brazil have already contracted chickenpox as a child. Well before the advent of childhood vaccination, it now protects against disease. However, some people may be more susceptible to developing shingles. Are they:

  • Adults over 50 – It is more common in people over 50 because age is a risk factor. Some experts estimate that half of those 85 and older will have shingles.
  • People with immunosuppressive diseases – Diseases that weaken the immune system, such as HIV / AIDS and cancer, can increase the risk of herpes zoster.
  • Patients on cancer treatments – Radiation or chemotherapy can decrease resistance to disease, which makes the patient vulnerable to the disease.
  • People using certain medications – Medicines used in newly transplanted people to inhibit rejection can increase the risk of herpes zoster, as well as prolonged use of steroids, such as prednisone.

When Should I See a Doctor?

It is important to seek medical help if you suspect shingles, but especially in the following situations:

  • If pain and rash occur near an eye . If left untreated, this infection can cause permanent eye damage.
  • If you are 60 or older , because age significantly increases the risk of complications.
  • If you or someone in your family has a weakened immune system (due to cancer, medication or chronic illness).
  • If the rash is widespread and painful.

Herpes Zoster Treatment

Treatment is aimed at decreasing the effects of the virus, as well as pain control . The sooner it is diagnosed, the sooner the doctor will be able to start treatment with antiviral drugs.

If it starts immediately after the onset of symptoms (rashes), it is possible to have a lower chance of complications.

The most common treatments include:

  • Antiviral medications, to reduce pain and duration of injuries
  • Pain medications
  • Prevention of secondary infections of skin lesions
  • Cold or fresh baths and moist compresses in the area of ​​the lesions can help relieve itching and pain.

What Are the Complications of Herpes Zoster?

Complications can include:

  • Post herpetic neuralgia – For some people, the pain continues long after the lesions heal. This condition is known as post-herpetic neuralgia, and occurs when damaged nerve fibers send confused and exaggerated messages of skin pain to the brain.
  • Loss of vision – Lesions in or around an eye (herpes zoster ophthalmic) can cause painful eye infections that can result in loss of vision.
  • Neurological problems – Depending on which nerves are affected, herpes zoster can cause inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), facial paralysis or hearing or balance problems.
  • Skin infections – If the lesions are not properly treated, bacterial skin infections can occur.

See also: Labyrinthitis: Main Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

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My name is Dr. Alexis Hart I am 38 years old, I am the mother of 3 beautiful children! Different ages, different phases 16 years, 12 years and 7 years. In love with motherhood since always, I found it difficult to make my dreams come true, and also some more after I was already a mother.

Since I imagined myself as a mother, in my thoughts everything seemed to be much easier and simpler than it really was, I expected to get pregnant as soon as I wished, but it wasn’t that simple. The first pregnancy was smooth, but my daughter’s birth was very troubled. Joana was born in 2002 with a weight of 2930kg and 45cm, from a very peaceful cesarean delivery but she had already been born with congenital pneumonia due to a broken bag not treated with antibiotics even before delivery.

Dr. Alexis Hart

My name is Dr. Alexis Hart I am 38 years old, I am the mother of 3 beautiful children! Different ages, different phases 16 years, 12 years and 7 years. In love with motherhood since always, I found it difficult to make my dreams come true, and also some more after I was already a mother. Since I imagined myself as a mother, in my thoughts everything seemed to be much easier and simpler than it really was, I expected to get pregnant as soon as I wished, but it wasn’t that simple. The first pregnancy was smooth, but my daughter’s birth was very troubled. Joana was born in 2002 with a weight of 2930kg and 45cm, from a very peaceful cesarean delivery but she had already been born with congenital pneumonia due to a broken bag not treated with antibiotics even before delivery.

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