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Shingles, or herpes zoster, is a common viral infection of the nerves, which results in a painful rash or small blisters on an area of skin anywhere on the body. Burning or shooting pain and tingling or itching are early signs of the infedtion, usually located on one side of the body or face. Even after the rash is gone, the pain can continue for months, even years.
Shingles is caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, which causes chickenpox. After a person has had chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in certain nerves for many years. Herpes zoster is more common in people with a depressed immune system, and in people over the age of 50.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least one million people will develop shingles annually in the U.S.
The following are the most common symptoms of shingles. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
Other early symptoms of shingles may include
The symptoms of shingles may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.
In addition to a complete physical examination and medical history, diagnostic tests for shingles may include the following:
Active shingles symptoms usually do not last longer than three to five weeks. However, complications do occasionally occur. The two major complications that can occur as a result of a case of shingles include the following:
Specific treatment for shingles will be determined by your physician based on:
Shingles has to run its course, because there is no cure for the disease. Treatment usually focuses on pain relief. Treatment may include painkillers to help alleviate some of the pain and antiviral drugs to help lessen some of the symptoms and minimize nerve damage. Other treatments may include:
A vaccine to prevent shingles was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2006. The vaccine, Zostavax, is recommended for adults 60 years of age and older.