Herpes zoster, also called shringles, is a viral disease, caused by varicella zoster virus (VZV). In most cases people suffer from this virus for the first time in childhood, this disease is called chickenpox then. In the begining of XX century in was discovered that chickenpox and acute herpes zoster are caused by the same virus. Thus, after recovery from chickenpox, the virus remains latent in the body, notably in the nerve cells bodies, cranial nerves or ganglions. Then after some time, it may happen even many years after initial infection, the virus may cause shringles. The latency of VZV in human body is poorly understood, that’s why it’s difficult to explain why its outbreaks occur after years of being suppressed.
Transmission and symptoms of the disease
Herpes zoster usually transmits from person to person through direct contact.
The most obvious signs of the disease is itching skin rush on small area of the body. The rush is usually located on the torso, but it also occurs on the face, limbs and other parts of the body. The rush normally occurs in a stripe or belt-like pattern and is often preceded by flu-like symptoms, including headache and weakness. In several days painful vesicular blisters, filled with lymph and blood, appear in the rushed areas. Blisters may ooze but normally they crust over in about a week, then the skin heals.
If herpes zoster occurs on eyes, its symptoms include conjunctivitis, keratitis, and other ocular inflammations. The infection is more likely to be transmitted when the rush hasn’t develop to blisters yet.
The older the patient, the more severe the symptoms are. Immunocompromised patients are also more likely to be infected and to have more severe and continuous symptoms.
Consequences of the infection
One of the consequences of the shringles is scars left on the skin. Although the patients normally recover within 2-3 weeks, nerve pain or postherpetic neuralgia may be experienced after skin healing for several weeks. Besides, secondary infection may develop if personal hygiene is not kept in proper way.
Diagnosis and treatment
Herpes zoster is diagnosed by visual examination. There are also laboratory test that may reveal the infection, but only during the outbreak, not the latent VZV.
There is no cure for VZV, as it is not studied in full yet. Treatment of the symptoms includes antiviral drugs and preventional vaccine. Antiviral drugs are used to eliminate the symptoms and reduce the duration of acute herpes zoster. However, it is efficient only taken within 72 hours after appearance of rush. Here is the list of most common medicines used for symptom reduce:
- Antiviral drugs, such as acyclovir, valaciclovir and famciclovir are the most common medicines
- Calamine lotions (are used to reveal pain);
- Capsaicin cream;
- Lidocaine (analgesic);
- Opioid drugs, such as morphine, are used in most severe cases.
There is also a vaccine against herpes zoster, its active component is a weakened form of the varicella-zoster virus. Although is it not 100% effective, it prevents half of the herpes cases.
Apart from medical treatment, the infected person should keep personal hygiene, to keep the skin clean, do not touch and scratch rash and blisters to prevent it further development.
Most of the medicines used for herpes treatment are over-the-counter, however, it’s better to consult the doctor before starting treatment to prevent complications and to choose the most effective medicines.
These articles can be used for informational purposes only. To get an accurate diagnosis consult your doctor!
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