Herpes zoster

Knowledge about

Maybe you have heard of herpes simplex virus, which also is referred to as herpes on a daily basis. It is a virus, that many humans have in their bodies, where it remains for the rest of their lives. We find different varieties of herpes such as herpes labialis, herpes keratitis and herpes zoster.

Herpes zoster is herpes on parts of the body or all over the body and appears as a rash that can be extremely painful. Herpes zoster is also known as shingles.

Why do you get shingles?

Shingles is caused by the chicken pox virus, whose medical name is varicella-zoster virus. If you’ve already had chickenpox it can lead to herpes zoster later in life. Only people who have had chickenpox can get this herpes variant.

The virus hides in the body’s nerves and goes dormant for the rest of its life. When shingles occurs, it is the chickenpox virus that breaks out again in a single nerve area.

What does herpes zoster look like?

Herpes zoster appears as a reddish rash on the body. Typically, it is limited to either the left or right side of the face or body and typically it occurs on the chest, lower back, or abdomen. It is also possible to get herpes zoster on the scalp or in the mouth. In principle it can affect all areas.

The typical herpes zoster symptoms are tingling, burning, itching and pain on the skin. For the first 3-6 days, a reddish rash with small blisters will appear in the area. Gradually, these small blisters will be filled with pus and possibly bloody fluid. After a while they will burst and become small wounds. The red rash is very painful for some people, and it will also itch and sting

After the sores, they will form scabs and later they will fall off. This might result in different colored pigmentations, but it will fortunately disappear over time.

When is shingles contagious?

Herpes zoster is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which many people are affected by in childhood. It is the classic chicken pox virus that breaks out again because it goes dormant in the body’s nerves system.

For the vast majority of people, it will be present in the nerves for many years or all their lives without causing symptoms.

As we get older and our immune system weakens, there is a risk that the virus is multiplying and moving along a nerve towards the skin. Because the virus travels along a single nerve, it will typically go in a limited area. In rare cases it will spread to other parts of the body, and this primarily applies to people with a very weak immune system – for example if you have other diseases.

How do you get infected with shingles?

If you have shingles, you are at risk of infecting others. You can spread the varicella-zoster virus and pass it on to other people when the virus is in outbreak. You must pay particular attention to people who have not yet had chickenpox if you experience an outbreak and be very careful not to pass the infection to them.

Is shingles painful?

This virus can cause severe pain on the skin and severe itching that results in sores all over the body. Your doctor can prescribe painkillers that will help relieve severe pain. Is it very different how painful a process is for different people. If you have a weak immune system an outbreak can hit the body harder and be more painful.

How is herpes zoster treated?

When treating herpes zoster, you will typically use painkillers. If it is not a very painful outbreak, your doctor will refer you to over-the-counter medication. In worse cases, you can get painkillers on prescription. In severe cases, it may be necessary to give a patient morphine-like drugs or local anesthetics that effectively relieve severe pain. During treatment, the affected area must be kept clean and dry. It is recommended that the rash is wrapped in a bandage that does not stick to the skin. This way you can avoid bacteria in the wounds. There is also antiviral medication that inhibits the multiplication that occurs in the nerve. The medicine must be taken within three days of the start of the outbreak in order to work, and is typically used to treat people 50+ who experience large outbreaks and attacks in the eyes or have a very weak immune system.

What can be applied to shingles?

If you experience herpes zoster pain or other symptoms, it is important that you contact your doctor. The doctor will help you – both in relation to prescription drugs for treatment and what else you can do yourself to relieve the pain. A local anesthetic cream will help relieve some of the major pain. This type of cream is available over the counter in a mild version, and otherwise you must contact your doctor to get a prescription.

How long does a herpes zoster outbreak last?

There is a big difference in how long you will experience an outbreak of herpes zoster. Many people find that it stops after 2-3 weeks by itself. For others, it can unfortunately last several months and up to a year after the outbreak, as the rash must heal so that the skin becomes normal again. The first symptoms appear within two days and will be tingling, burning, pain and itching on the skin. After this, the small blisters appear, which later burst, become sores and later scabs. The healing process itself is typically what takes the longest.

What can be done to relieve shingles?

It is possible to get a vaccine for herpes zoster. There are two approved vaccines used to reduce the risk of shingles. Both are approved for use by people over 50, and it is possible to get one if you are 18. These vaccines reduce the risk of getting herpes zoster later in life. It is important that you take good care of yourself and your immune system. You must be aware of the factors that weaken your immune system. Those factors are the generally known rules of living that we all should follow; eat varied food, get enough sleep, exercise, avoid smoking, avoid too much alcohol and try to avoid getting stressed.