Herpes zoster is the infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus, also known as shingles.After an outbreak of chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus lies dormant in the nerve cells near the spinal cord. Later, when the immune system becomes compromised and is no longer able to hold the virus at bay, it travels along nerve pathways to the skin. This is called shingles, and results in pain and a blistering rash.
What causes Herpes Zoster?
The causes are not fully understood, but one of the main factors is a depressed immune system.
Who is at risk for Herpes Zoster?
Only people who have had chickenpox can get herpes zoster, or shingles. Most people who get shingles are people over age 80 or people who have a depressed immune system, like:
- HIV or cancer patients
- People taking anti-rejection drugs for organ transplants.
How can I reduce my risk?
Make sure that you have a healthy immune system by:
- Eating a healthy diet with plenty of antioxidants.
- Getting enough exercise and avoiding excess weight and stress.
How do I know if I have Herpes Zoster?
The following are common symptoms of Herpes Zoster:
- Burning, stabbing, deep pain
- Itchy rash localized to one area of the body
- In rare cases, muscle weakness or paralysis
What should I do if I think I have Herpes Zoster?
See your doctor immediately if you think you have herpes zoster. If you begin treatment early, the length and severity of your outbreak can be reduced.
Are there any lasting effects of Herpes Zoster?
Yes, there are some symptoms that can persist after the rash has healed. Some of the worst of these are:
- Postherpetic neuralgia. This is a persistent pain in the area that was effected by the blistering. Some people experience this pain for a few weeks, some for years. It is caused by nerve damage that was incurred during the infection.
- Ramsay Hunt Syndrome. This is paralysis of the face caused by facial nerve damage. Other symptoms of this syndrome include hearing loss, loss of taste, and skin lesions around the ear.
Is Herpes Zoster contagious?
- Herpes zoster can be transmitted to people who have not had chickenpox. Usually this will result in an outbreak of chickenpox, not shingles.
- The virus is transmitted through fluid from the blisters, not by coughing, sneezing, or blood.
- Keep the rash covered to help minimize the risk of transmission.
- If someone has not had chickenpox, they should consider a vaccination to prevent infection. Chickenpox infections in older people can be extremely severe.
What are my treatment options?
- There are many options for treating herpes zoster.
- Many prescription drugs are available, but these may have harmful side effects.
- The best way to treat shingles is to help your immune system defeat it, by eating a diet high in Vitamins A, C and E, Zinc, and other antioxidants.
- Garlic has also been shown to be beneficial in boosting the immune system.