Herpes Zoster (shingles)

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What is it

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a viral infection that manifests in a strip like pattern, as a painful skin rash with blisters, typically on part of one side of the body.1 The occurrence and severity of shingles and its complications increase with age.2 Shingles is not caused by the same virus that causes genital herpes, a sexually transmitted disease.2

Who is at risk

Anybody who has had chickenpox can get shingles, although most people who do so are older than 50 or have a weakened immune system.1 Examples of people with weakened immune system include those with cancer, HIV, AIDS, or takes medication that weakens their immune system.1 Scratching the shingles rash can also cause a secondary infection if harmful bacteria enter the body through the open sores.1 People who develop shingles typically have only one episode in their lifetime, however it is possible to have a second or even a third episode.2

What are the symptoms

Shingles manifests as a painful rash that develops on one side of the face or body.1

  • Before the rash develops, people typically have pain, tingling or itching in the area where the rash will occur.1.3
  • It can occur anywhere on the body, although it is typically in one strip on the right or left side of the body.1,3
  • The rash consists of groups of small, fluid-filled blisters that dry, scab over, and heal (like chickenpox) in a few weeks.1
  • Some may experience severe debilitating pain around the rash site that continues for a month or more.1
  • Some may be left with scars during the healing process.1
  • Shingles can involve the eyes, which may cause scarring and blindness.1,3
  • Other symptoms of shingles include fever, headache, chills and upset stomach.3

How is it spread

Shingles occurs when the virus that causes chicken pox (varicella zoster), is reactivated in their body.1 The chicken pox virus remains dormant (inactive) in the body even after a person has recovered from the initial infection.1 For reasons that are not fully known, the virus can reactivate years later, causing shingles, often many years after a person has had chicken pox.1,2 occurrence and severity of shingles and its complications increase with age.1

How is it prevented

The best protection from shingles is vaccination.1,4 Although it is still possible get shingles after vaccination, people are 4 to 12 times less likely to do so compared to those who haven’t been immunized.1 The vaccine is recommended for most people 60 years of age and older.1 People between 50 and 59 years of age can request the vaccine from their healthcare provider.1

How is it treated

Shingles is typically treated with antiviral medication to reduce the severity and duration of symptoms. The medication works best when taken in the first three days after the rash appears.

Additional medications can be prescribed for symptomatic management of pain and swelling.1 Medical advice is recommended for the onset of symptoms. For further information regarding Shingles and immunization, please speak with your healthcare provider.

REFERENCES

  1. Public Health Agency of Canada. Fact Sheet – Shingles (Herpes Zoster) (2013). http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/id-mi/shingles-zona-fs-eng.php
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingles (Herpes Zoster): Overview. (2016). https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/overview.html
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingles (Herpes Zoster): Overview. (2016). https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/overview.html
  4. Merck Zostavax II Product Monograph. (2016) https://pdf.hres.ca/dpd_pm/00035945.PDF