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Shingles is an infection of the central nervous system, similar in many ways to chicken pox and genetically related to herpes simplex (the variety which causes cold sores). It is caused by the contraction of the varicella-zoster virus (VZV aka HHV-3). The virus is often inhaled and usually resides in the dorsal root ganglia of the spine. It then moves on via sensory nerves to the skin, where it creates painful bumps. Shingles can also cause nerve pain, and the disease often reappears later in life, although only in about 4% of its victims.
Shingles is caused from the same virus that causes chicken pox. Sometimes the virus goes dormant (in the nerve roots) never to reappear, but sometimes it awakens. Years later, it may reappear for many reasons including illnesses, weakened immune system, or stress. Shingles can be very painful and often causes a rash.
Shingles itself is not contagious but a person who has shingles can spread the chicken pox virus to someone who has never had chicken pox.
Like chicken pox, shingles needs to run its course but there are medications that can be taken to hurry the process up and alleviate some of the symptoms.
Shingles is a frustrating illness that causes pain and itching in the affected area. It may be somewhat mild or severe. It is caused by herpes zoster and produces a red raised rash usually on the thorax but can be located virtually anywhere. It usually extends from under the pectoralis major on the chest wall to the posterior thoracic area. Most people get shingles either during a period of physical or emotional stress (or both) or shortly thereafter.
Opinions differ on appropriate treatment. Some physicians treat the itching with a antihistamine like diphenhydramine. Some treat it with topical preparations. Still other physicians argue that absolutely no treatment is warranted because it just doesn't have any benefits, they also warn against topical creams or ointments because of the possibility of spreading the rash if not properly applied. Shingles has to run its course and symptoms usually subside after 7-10 days.
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