Shingles: What you need to know

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus remains inactive in the nerve tissue near the spinal cord and brain. In some people, the virus may reactivate years later and cause shingles.

The main symptom of shingles is a painful rash that usually appears on one side of the body, often in a stripe or band-like pattern. The rash typically develops into fluid-filled blisters that scab over in 7 to 10 days and eventually clear up within 2 to 4 weeks. Other symptoms of shingles may include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, sensitivity to touch, itchiness and upset stomach.

Individuals with Shingles are contagious until the rash is dried and crusted over. Within this period, they can transmit the virus to other people through direct contact with the fluid from the blister. Those who are exposed may develop chickenpox (Varicella).

Possible complications that can happen:

Post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) – pain that continues even after the blisters have cleared. This may last from months to years after the Shingles infection. The risk of developing PHN increases with age.  

Eye complications – Shingles occurring in and around the eye (Ophthalmic shingles) may predispose a patient to complications in the eye or even result to vision loss.

Neurologic problems – inflammation of the brain or membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord can happen leading to encephalitis or meningitis.

Skin infections – secondary bacterial infection of the blisters may occur if they are not cared for properly.


• Anti-viral medications (ex: Acyclovir, Valacyclovir) – if started within the first 72 hours of the infection, it can help decrease the duration and severity of the skin rash and associated pain.  It also lowers the risk of complications.

• Pain medications

• Topical treatment for the lesions such as anti-bacterial ointment, Calamine lotion and topical numbing agents (ex: Lidocaine cream, spray, or patch)

Ways to prevent shingles:

  • Get vaccinated: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults aged 50 years and older get the shingles vaccine. 
  • Maintain a healthy immune system: A healthy immune system can help prevent shingles. Eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and managing stress can all help support your immune system.
  • Avoid contact with people who have chickenpox or shingles: Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. If you have never had chickenpox, avoid contact with people who have chickenpox or shingles.
  • Practice good hygiene: Wash your hands frequently, especially after coming into contact with someone who has chickenpox or shingles.

It pays to be informed

It is important to consult with a doctor should you feel any symptoms of shingles as to be guided on the proper medication for your case. 

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