Shingles is an illness caused by infection with the varicella-zoster virus. Varicella is the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person has had chickenpox, the virus can remain inactive in the nerve tissue for many years. Stress, aging and diseases that weaken the immune system can cause the virus to become active. When the virus is activated, inflammation and pain develop along the sensory nerve pathways, called dermatomes, and on the skin overlying the dermatome. Shingles, or herpes zoster, usually starts with a tingling sensation along the dermatome. A painful skin rash develops in 2-3 days. The rash often appears as a strip or band on one side of the body in the area of the dermatome. Other common locations for the rash include the side of the neck or face. The rash is usually followed by small, pus-filled blisters that will break open and eventually crust over. These symptoms last about 2 – 4 weeks. A condition called postherpetic neuralgia is a complication of shingles. For some people, the nerves affected by shingles become damaged and continue to send pain signals to the brain long after the rash has healed. Shingles is not contagious. The majority of patients who develop shingles are over the age of 50. Treatment may include antiviral medication and pain medication. A shingles vaccine is recommended for people over age 60. It is recommended you consult with a doctor to determine the most appropriate treatment option for you.
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