Herpes zoster: Know the disease caused by chicken pox virus

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Facts About Herpes Zoster, Also Known As “Shingles”

Herpes Zoster, commonly known as “Shingles” is a viral disease which often heals within several weeks, but can be long-lasting when nerve pain occurs as a side-effect. Initially, it can be detected by observing a skin rash and accompanying pain, itching, and blistering, but oftentimes there are few symptoms. Progression of the disease can exacerbate in individuals with poor immune functioning, and serious side effects may arise in these cases. Since ancient times this disease has made its impact, but with more people surviving into their 80’s, estimates indicate that as many as 50% of individuals living to the age of 85 may have at least one attack of shingles. Fortunately, fewer than 1 in 20 tend to experience further attacks.

Who is most affected in Australia

Statistical estimates suggest that approximately one-third of people develop shingles at some point, and although uncommon, children can get the disease. In terms of total cases per year, healthy people see a risk ranging between 1.2 and 3.4 per 1,000 person-years, with those older than 65 falling between 3.9 and 11.8 per 1,000 person-years.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare provides information regarding herpes zoster and is comprehensive through 2016. For Australian residents aged 70, a shingles vaccination is provided with a five-year “catch-up” program for residents between 71 and 79 years. The vaccine has been found to be most effective for this age group, but much less so for those older than 80.

Shingles in Australia (1997-2016):

  • According to kamagraapotheek.nl research 83% of shingles deaths occurred in people aged 80+
  • Death rates:
  • age under 70: 0.1 per 1,000,000
  • ages 70-79: 2.1 per 1,000,000
  • 80+: 24.7 per 1,000,000

Signs of Herpes Zoster

Hospitalizations have remained steady each year from 1997 to 2016 in Australia, although it is anticipated to decline as the new vaccinations impact the aging population. Unfortunately, in many instances medical care is not sought so the illness goes unreported, thus the true number of shingles cases is likely to be higher.

Herpes Zoster can lead to:

  • tingling and burning sensations
  • blistering and rash
  • infections
  • headaches
  • lethargy
  • blindness, vision loss and other eye issues
  • hearing problems
  • ongoing nerve pain (postherpetic neuralgia)
  • pneumonia and death

Herpes Zoster and Chickenpox

A well known is the fact that Herpes Zoster is associated with the same virus (varicella zoster) which causes chickenpox; chickenpox generally occurs during the first 18 months of age. The virus can remain inactive (in nerve cells) throughout one’s life, then reactivate. Diagnosis based on visual examination of the rash is easy since the rash is identifiable through a dermatomal pattern similar to that produced by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Distinguishing between HSV and herpes zoster (VZV) would require laboratory analysis of blood or lymph collected from a blister.

Vaccination

A vaccine exists which may reduce the risk of shingles significantly (up to 90% in some cases), and the vaccine also decreases the severity of some side-effects of Herpes Zoster, if it does occur. Antiviral medication may be used to treat the disease if caught within 72 hours, but treatment tends to focus on palliative methods after this time period. Treatment methods include:

  • covering/bandaging the rash
  • frequent hand washing and sanitary practices
  • Antiviral medication (if caught early, within 72 hours)
  • OTC pain relievers
  • Opioids
  • Topical lotions containing calamine, lidocaine, or capsaicin
  • Gabapentin or other medications for postherpetic neuralgia
  • Corticosteroids for short-term pain

Treatments will depend on the stage of diagnosis, the severity of symptoms, and other individual factors. Unfortunately, the disease isn’t “cured” – although when caught early the breakout can be completely tempered – so these treatments are palliative and can be long-term, with their own risks and side-effects. 

Vaccination is the safest, most effective method in preventing Herpes Zoster / Shingles.

Risk factors

  • Previous outbreak of chickenpox (varicella) is required
  • age over 65 years, leading to declines of cellular immunity
  • immunosuppression
  • stress
  • physical injuries (trauma)
  • immunotoxins
  • HIV and AIDS
  • had an organ transplant or bone marrow transplant
  • previous chemotherapy or cancer

For those who have never had chickenpox, coming into contact with the fluid on the blisters of someone with shingles can cause chickenpox, but not shingles directly.

Surprisingly, genetic links have not borne strong evidence; studies done on this topic have yielded contradictory findings. Current DNA analysis techniques are being widely used to analyze and predict incidences of varicella-zoster, in addition to autopsies and brain biopsies. Scientists will likely learn much in the coming years, and to this day mortality rates of patients undergoing treatment are decreasing.

8 Responses to “Herpes zoster: Know the disease caused by chicken pox virus”

  1. Matthew Jacobs

    I have just found out I have Herpes Zoster. I don’t know how i’m going to tell my wife because she is going to be so very mad. I really feel bad that this has happened but i guess it is what it is and now i’m stuck trying to find a cure. Wish me luck on my journey to find the cure which i will tell my wife is a buisness trip.

    Reply
  2. John Kelly

    About seven years ago I had an allergic reaction to a new medication I was taking. It nearly killed me and I was hospitalized for 5 whole months. I had an even longer recovery once home from the hospital. When I was suffering from this incident my immune system was drastically compromised and I started seeing these red flaky bits on patches of my body. I went to the doctor and was told it was Herpes Zoster. Apparently it is the dormant “chicken pox” from when I was a child, and after my near death experience my immune system didn’t fight it and it began to flare up. I found it to be quite unpleasant and painful. It was also unsightly, making me hide my marks with layers of clothing. Since then it has successfully cleared up.

    Reply
  3. Koby Fern

    I was diagnosed with Herpes Zoster three weeks ago. It started with a bad headache and a slight fever. A few days later, I developed a bad, red rash under my arm. I went to the doctor and was given antiviral drugs. A few weeks later, my rash is just starting to clear up.

    Reply
  4. Jett Philips

    My first shingles incident was about 6 years ago now with painful embarrassing blisters. I felt like a hermit. I actually thought I had poison ivy! I hid it and treated it as poison ivy. About six months later a friend told me she had shingles and described the rash. I asked if I could see her abdomen. We compared our symptoms. The next time this happens to me (which I hope is never) I will go to the doctor. I’ve been told there is a medicine to help shorten the length of time or help prevent an outbreak.

    Reply
  5. Spencer Phillips

    I was fairly young when I had a case of Herpes Zoster, about 23 years old. My outbreak followed an incident where I fainted on the floor of a hospital emergency room, as I stood beside the table while the nurse stitched up an elderly family member’s bloody scalp in the wee hours of a morning after they had taken a bad fall in their bathroom. I ended up with an outbreak on my chest and back. At first it seemed like just an itchy rash that reminded me much of the itch I had with Chicken Pox as a child, but it was spread more like an allergic reaction. Since it was summer time, and we all sweat, my laundry detergent was immediately suspect in potentially bleeding into my pores when I sweated. As it rapidly progressed and got worse, the itching and pain grew in proportion. I fled to the doctor for assistance. At the time, there was not much he could do except prescribe avoid wearing a bra, keep the areas clean and dry, wear loose clothing, and avoid touching my eyes. I don’t specifically recall how long it took to heal, but I do remember being very self-conscious about what I wore without a bra during that time period.

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  6. Jayden Lee

    I have been trying to get it under control for the last 4 years but to no avail. I have looked up information online and gone to the doctor but every time I get it to go away it just comes back.

    Reply
  7. Seth Morris

    Doing a research on Herpes Zoster also known as shingles, i found out information about it.A person with this virus it can spread threw there whole body while its in the blistering stage. But you are infectious before the blisters. BUt there is treatment for Herpes Zoster.

    Reply
  8. Hunter Dines

    I have been living with Herpes Zoster for the past 10 years. I’ve tried everything to try to fix the issue, but unfortunately nothing has been able to fix it. I have been to doctors, I have used medicine, I have had surgical procedures done, but nothing seems to fix my Herpes Zoster.

    Reply

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