It is a painful skin infection due to a nervous area eruption.
Herpes zoster, band virus, or shingles is caused by varicella-zoster, the same virus that causes chickenpox.
After the treatment of chickenpox, the band virus can live in a latent state in the nerve cell system of the spine.
Anyone with a history of chickenpox can be infected with shingles.
The infection usually appears on a small portion of the face or body in a strip or band, hence its name.
Shingles are more common among people over 50 and with a weak immune system.
In general, geriatric patients suffering from diseases related to a weakening of the immune system such as HIV, AIDS, or certain cancers, who have undergone chemotherapy or radiotherapy or who have received transplants and subsequent medications, have a higher risk of developing shingles.
The latent infection caused by varicella-zoster can be reactivated, even many years after you have had chickenpox.
This can happen when the immune system is not working in the best way. This may be due to one of the following reasons:
- Advanced age.
- Suffering diseases
- Use medications that inhibit the body’s immune system, such as corticosteroids.
- Having some types of cancer or HIV.
- Radiation treatment
Most of the time, it is difficult to know precisely what triggered the reactivation of the virus.
Shingles rarely occur in children younger than ten years old.
The risks of contracting it at that age increase significantly if a child has been infected with the virus during the first year of life or if the mother had chickenpox during pregnancy.
Symptoms and complications
The first symptoms of shingles are pain and burning.
Usually, pain occurs on one side of the body and in small patches, followed by red rashes.
The rash becomes a band of blisters, accompanied by tingling or burning sensations.
The blisters fill with liquid and take 2 to 4 weeks to heal; the blisters will break, dry, and then wrinkle, leaving scars.
The virus can also show rash, upset stomach, headache, fever, and chills.
These symptoms are usually preceded by warning signs such as sensitivity, itching, numbness, or pain in the days before the onset of the rash.
Ophthalmic herpes zoster is a disease characterized by the reactivation of virus viral cells located in the ophthalmic nerve.
In most cases of eyes affected by the virus, there are headaches, eye pain, maculae, and conjunctiva; these are some of the symptoms of the initial stage.
When the varicella-zoster virus enters its “quiet” phase after varicella, it remains dormant in specific nerves.
The eruption of shingles will occur in body areas connected to these nerve cells.
As a result, only one section or one side of the body is often affected.
Common sites for the rash include the chest, abdomen, back, buttocks, neck, and sometimes the face and scalp.
However, the rash commonly occurs on one side of the trunk of your body as a band of blisters that run from the middle of your back around one side of the chest to the sternum.
If the immune system is not functioning at total capacity, the rash and symptoms will be much more severe and take longer to heal.
The virus can also spread to other organs of the body, but this is rare in people with healthy immune systems.
Postherpetic neuralgia (severe pain in the affected nerves) is one of the complications of band virus infection. It is characterized by intense pain along the affected nerves where the herpes zoster virus is found. It can last several weeks, months, or years, and it can be permanent.
The cause of postherpetic neuralgia is not known. Other complications can occur if the virus is spread by the nerve that connects to the eyes.
This can cause an eye infection or eye pain caused by exposure to light.
Your ophthalmologist should be consulted immediately if shingles are suspected in the eye area. If left untreated, the virus can cause blindness.
Ramsay Hunt syndrome may develop if the virus spreads to two particular nerves in the face.
Among the observed signs and symptoms are earache, loss of the senses of hearing and taste, and in some cases, facial paralysis.
With shingles, the rash is quite characteristic and easy to identify.
Doctors can easily detect herpes zoster by looking at the area of the affected body, depending on the distinctive appearance of the rash.
If the diagnosis of shingles is unclear, then the doctor may request a laboratory test with cells taken from the blisters, usually herpes tests.
People with a suppressed immune system would also require laboratory tests.
The treatment of shingles is done to avoid the development of complications and relieve pain and discomfort during the illness.
The use of loose and comfortable clothing is recommended to reduce irritation in the affected area.
Cold compresses are used to relieve pain and burning.
Analgesics such as paracetamol or combined with codeine or anti-inflammatory painkillers are also recommended to reduce and anesthetize the pain.
Antiviral drugs such as Aciclovir, Famciclovir, and Valaciclovir are recommended to prevent the virus from multiplying and work better if they are started within 72 hours after the eruption develops.
Also, steroid tablets reduce swelling and inflammation.
Narcotic medications, tricyclic antidepressants, diphenhydramine, over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen, pregabalin, or narcotic analgesics such as oxycodone, are used to reduce pain.
There are treatment methods home, rest at home, cold compresses in eruptions, calamine lotion, an ointment containing capsaicin, and taking baths of colloidal oats and corn starch.
There is evidence that starting a rapid treatment with antiviral drugs and an oral steroid cycle may decrease the risk of developing postherpetic neuralgia or shorten the duration of symptoms.
Keep the rash dry and clean, and avoid dressings and adhesive bandages.
Preventive measures for Herpes Zoster
There is a vaccine against the varicella-zoster virus. This vaccine, Zostavax, also reduces many cases of chickenpox that later create herpes zoster, called varicella-zoster immunization.
Adults over 52 and babies 12 to 18 months old are vaccinated to strengthen the immune system and fight the band virus.