Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a disease caused by the Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV). Dr. Angelica De Lisa from Piedmont Physicians at Roswell Road explains the risks, causes and symptoms of this disease.
VZV is the same virus that causes chicken pox, so logically, Dr. De Lisa says, anybody who has had chicken pox may be at risk for shingles. “In fact, it is a reactivation of the chicken pox virus, usually many years after the initial chicken pox infection.” Seen most commonly in people older than age 50, additional risk factors include history of cancer or organ transplant, use of medications that weaken the immune system, or a history of diseases or disorders that affect the immune system.
Symptoms of shingles range from mild pain, itching and tingling to severe pain, numbness or burning sensations in specific areas of the body. “Fluid-filled lesions or blisters can appear at the same time or several days later,” Dr. De Lisa adds. If they appear on the face, these lesions can affect the ability to hear and see. The disease is usually diagnosed based on a history of pain in a specific area of the body along with the appearance of this characteristic rash. Currently, no cure exists for this condition.dr
Though it sounds frightening, this disease is usually not life-threatening for people with a normal, healthy immune system. “With proper treatment, lesions clear and pain improves in most cases,” Dr. De Lisa says. That treatment typically includes antivirals. “If used as soon as symptoms start, [antivirals] can decrease the duration and the intensity of the episode of shingles.”
“But for people who have conditions that affect the immune system, shingles could represent a serious threat,” Dr. De Lisa continues. In order to reduce your risk, you can opt for the shingles vaccine called Zostavax. Even people who have had prior episodes of shingles can still benefit from the vaccine, Dr. De Lisa says. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend the vaccination for people 60 and up, with a few exceptions for people taking medications or experiencing diseases that affect the immune system. Check with your doctor to ensure that you are eligible for the vaccine.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – www.cdc.gov
Dr. Angelica De Lisa, Piedmont Physicians at Roswell Road – www.piedmont.org
National Institutes of Health – www.nih.gov