Herpes zoster, commonly referred to as shingles, is a medical condition originating from the varicella zoster virus (VZR)—the identical virus that causes chickenpox. Although this condition can affect individuals at any age, the probability of its occurrence increases as one ages, along with the potential for various complications.

What Causes Herpes Zoster?

Herpes zoster occurs due to the reactivation of the varicella zoster virus. After recovering from chickenpox, this virus can lie dormant in the dorsal root ganglia, a part of the nervous system, for many years without showing visible symptoms. However, factors like ageing, lowered immunity due to chronic diseases or medications, and lack of adequate rest can trigger the re-emergence of the virus.

Identifying the Symptoms

Initial symptoms typically include sensations of pain and burning. For some individuals, even a minimal touch or friction from clothing can be painful. Subsequent to these sensations, a rash emerges within 2 to 3 days, forming clusters of blisters resembling chickenpox. Unlike chickenpox, these blisters are confined to the area where the nerve fibres are infected. Eventually, these blisters crust over, forming scabs. Additional symptoms may include fever and flu-like conditions.

Complications to Be Aware Of

Post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) is the most frequent complication, especially among individuals aged 60 or above. The persistence of pain varies from months to years, and in extreme cases, it may last a lifetime. Other complications include bacterial skin infections and eye issues.

Guidelines for Treatment

The standard treatment protocol involves the use of antiviral medicines to alleviate pain, inflammation, and the number of blisters. Treatment may also be customised to address specific symptoms or complications and can include pain relievers, antihistamines, or antibiotics.

Preventive Measures

Herpes zoster vaccine is available for older adults, specifically recommended for those aged 60 and above. This vaccine is designed to not only prevent the onset of herpes zoster but also to mitigate the severity of its symptoms once contracted. For individuals with chronic diseases or weakened immune systems, earlier vaccination may be advisable based on medical consultation.