Shingles is an outbreak of rash or blisters on the skin that is caused by the same virus that causes Chickenpox. No one knows for sure what causes the chickenpox virus to become activated to cause shingles . Some possibilities include the following:
A weakened immune system [This may be age-related, disease-related or a drug- related decrease in the ability to keep the chickenpox virus in an inactive state.]
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Injury of the skin where the rash occurs
The first sign of shingles is often burning or tingling pain, or sometimes numbness or itch, in one particular location on only one side of the body. After several days or a week, a rash of fluid-filled blisters, similar to chickenpox, appears in one area on one side of the body. Shingles pain can be mild or intense. Some people have mostly itching; some feel pain from the gentlest touch or breeze. The most common location for shingles is a band, called a dermatone, spanning one side of the trunk around the waistline. Anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk for shingles.
Scientists think that in the original battle with the virus, some of the virus particles leave the skin blisters and move into the nervous system. When the virus reactivates the virus moves back down the long nerve fibers that extend from the sensory cell bodies to the skin. The viruses multiply, the tell-tale rash erupts, and the person now has shingles.
The severity and duration of an attack of shingles can be significantly reduced by immediate treatment with antiviral drugs. Other treatments for postherpetic neuralgia
Include steroids, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and topical agents. In 2006 the FDA approved a VZY vaccine [Zostavax} for use in people 60 and older who have had chickenpox. When MEDICARE begins to pay for the vaccine, many older adults who can’t afford to pay $125 for the vaccination will for the first time have a means of preventing shingles. Researchers found that giving older adults the vaccine reduced the number of later cases by half. And in people who still got the disease despite immunization, the severity and complications of shingles were dramatically reduced. The shingles vaccine is only a preventative therapy and is not a treatment for those who already have shingles or postherpetic neuralgia. I must add that I already have had shingles and postherpetic neuralgia and so would not benefit from the vaccine.
Shingles Information Page: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
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