Is Shingles A Chronic Disease?

If you’ve ever had shingles, the last thing you want to experience is an encore performance. Known in medical terms as herpes zoster, it is an infection caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. And while you may not easily remember those technical terms, it’s a sure bet you won’t forget how shingles made you look and feel.

Who Is Susceptible to Herpes Zoster?

Anyone who has had the chickenpox as a child is a candidate for acquiring herpes zoster. Even after the infection has run its course, VZV remains in the body in a latent or dormant state. Doctors are not entirely sure what triggers VZV to become reactivated, but it most often rears its ugly head decades later when our immune systems are naturally a little weaker.

People with compromised immune systems, including those who have had organ transplants, those with certain cancers or who are in the process of receiving chemotherapy or radiation treatments or those diagnosed with HIV or AIDS are also more susceptible. There is also a study that lends credence to the belief that stress may be a triggering risk factor.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in three people can expect to get the herpes zoster infection in the course of their lifetime, and the chances of their becoming infected increases with age. The CDC recommends vaccination for healthy adults age 50 or older.

What Are the Symptoms of Herpes Zoster?

Physical Symptoms

A few days before any physical symptoms occur, infected persons tend to experience pain, a burning feeling, and a sense of tingling under the skin. This is followed by the debut of a painful rash and oozing, pus-filled blisters in those same areas. It isn’t pretty. The rash often appears in a belt-like form on one side of the body along the torso, back, or extremities. Typically, the blisters dry up and scab over in seven to ten days and clear completely in two to four weeks.

Herpes zoster may also occur on the face around an eye or an ear. Special care should be taken in these cases, as it could lead to eye damage and blindness or hearing loss. In some sporadic cases, herpes zoster can cause pneumonia, inflammation of the brain, or even death.

Malaise

Feelings of general malaise are also common with herpes zoster. Infected persons may experience headache, fatigue, fever and chills, and a sensitivity to light. They may also experience nausea, loss of appetite, or trouble sleeping.

Who Is Most Susceptible for a Recurrence of Herpes Zoster?

Once a person has experienced herpes zoster, it doesn’t often recur in large part because the body develops a level of immunity toward the virus. Like the chickenpox, however, the virus does not go away entirely but instead returns to its latent state. As a result, it is possible to experience a reemergence of the infection.

Risk Factors

Because there are no medical requirements to report cases of herpes zoster, there are no definitive records on the numbers of second or even third recurrences. However, just as advanced age and immunity-related health factors increase the risk of having the first bout with herpes zoster, so do they factor in a repeat performance.

Postherpetic Neuralgia

According to the CDC, about 10 to 18 percent of people who have become infected with herpes zoster will continue to experience chronic pain in the area where their rash occurred for three months or longer after it has disappeared. This likelihood increases depending on the age the person was when they first acquired the infection. With increased age, the pain can be more severe. In some cases, it can be debilitating. Anyone who continues to suffer pain after the symptoms of herpes zoster has subsided should consult with their doctor.

How Should A Recurring Infection be Treated?

Certainly, one of the most challenging symptoms of herpes zoster to deal with is the painful, burning rash. Fortunately, a recurrence can be treated the same as with an initial infection – with a good shingles cream.

A good shingles cream should be a natural treatment providing fast, effective relief for the pain and itching caused by herpes zoster. It should have no reported side effects. It should also penetrate deep under the skin’s protective layer to quickly calm inflamed tissues and promote skin repair.