What are Shingles?
Shingles is a skin rash that is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. The virus Varicella zoster is part of the herpes family and is highly contagious. The symptoms of shingles vary from person to person but most people notice severe burning and sensitive skin 7 to 10 days before they develop a rash. Shingles does not look like chicken pox but does have small blisters on a red base. These develop along the pathways of individual nerves in a ray-like pattern. This usually occurs on the trunk or face in a band like strip. In some cases the blisters do not develop and only the pain associated with the nerve is felt. It takes approximately 3 to 4 weeks for shingles to heal completely. Shingles are very painful and the slightest pressure on the affected area can cause extreme pain.
How do you get Shingles?
Shingles are a reactivation of the varicella zoster (chicken pox) virus in your body. To get shingles you first have to have had chicken pox. After you recover from chicken pox the virus lies dormant in you nervous system and is never completely gone. It is not certain what cause the virus to reactivate but it is thought that a lowered immune system contributes. This reactivation often occurs later in life with people over the age of 50 most likely to get shingles. It is not often seen in younger people. You are also more likely to develop shingles if you have a low immune system due to stress, ill health, HIV, organ transplant or cancer. You cannot catch shingles. However if you have never had chicken pox you may develop them after having contact with a person infected with shingles. The virus is passed on through the fluid that weeps from the blisters. It can also be passed on through other bodily fluid such as saliva and nasal secretions. You may also contract the virus by contact with an open cut.