What is shingles?
Shingles, or herpes zoster, is a virus that causes nerve roots near the spinal cord to become inflamed. This inflammation causes painful blisters on the skin, typically in a band on the chest or the abdomen. They may also occur around the eyes, or on the face, arms, thighs or neck. The term herpes zoster, creeping belt, in Greek, describes the belt-like formation of skin blisters.
What causes shingles?
A virus causes shingles – the same one that causes chicken pox in children. After a childhood outbreak of chicken pox, the virus may remain sleeping in a nerve root near the spine. Later, if resistance to infection is weakened by stress, lack of sleep, illness, or injury, the virus may be reactivated to cause shingles. Sometimes, shingles appears for no apparent reason.
What are the warning signs of shingles?
At first, the virus multiplies in nerve roots near the spine, injuring or killing cells. It then travels down sensory nerves to the skin’s surface, erupting in a rash of blisters that looks like chicken pox. The resulting pain, itching, or tingling may occur before or after the rash appears.
Who is at risk?
Since resistance to disease is often weakened with age, people over 65 are more likely to suffer from shingles. It is estimated that more than half of all people over the age of 80 will experience shingles.
Is shingles contagious?
Yes and no. You cannot catch shingles since the only way to become infected is after having chicken pox. You can, however, pass the virus along to others during the blister phase. Adult friends are at risk if they have not previously had chicken pox. Children are particularly at risk. Nearly 15% of children have caught their chicken pox from this type of exposure.
How is shingles treated?
Medical opinion varies widely, treating with ointments, prescription medications to treat both the virus and the pain, and nerve blocks. Our New Jersey spine surgeon will discuss the various options. Please feel free to ask her any questions.