The first time I heard that someone had shingles my first questions was “what are they going to do with them?” I was so embarrassed that I thought it was a conversation about roof materials and not a skin rash! I quickly learned that shingles is a painful illness that is common among our maturing population, and it can be highly contagious.
What are shingles? Shingles are known in the medical community as Herpes zoster. It is caused by the Varicella zoster virus which is also the cause of chickenpox in children. In fact, because shingles is contagious to children or people who have never had chickenpox the virus can be contracted by them and can manifest as chickenpox.
How is shingles contracted? After a child has chickenpox, the Varicella zoster virus lay dormant in the root of the nervous system, or the part of the nervous system near the spine. As we age or experience compromises in our immune system, the virus can then reactivated and move out through the nervous system when factors like, stress, cancer, chemotherapy or HIV take hold of one’s health. However, there are also unknown causes for reactivation and the virus appears to become more common in those people 60 years or older.
What are the symptoms? Because shingles works its way through your nervous system, it will go down a nerve(s) and will often manifest in a characteristic pattern consistent with nerve regions. Shingles are generally accompanied by itchy blisters that can become filled with pus in addition to a generalized pain on the skin in the affected region. Pain can range from mild to excruciating.
If you experience any symptoms like the above you should seek the advice of your physician. Your physician can help you determine the best ways to soothe your skin and calm your rash. Common forms of soothing include calamine lotion and cool compresses.
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