When someone speaks of shingles, they may or may not know they are actually referring to the herpes zoster virus. This is a viral infection that forms at the nerve roots, forming painful red rashes with tiny blisters, usually filled with a clear fluid. The skin often feels tingly before the rash appears on the infected areas, though burning sensations have also been reported.
The virus will usually manifest near the beltline of a person, but this is not always the case – infections of herpes zoster have been reported in various areas of the body, including the face. The rash can literally form anywhere on the body, but most infections will manifest only on one side and not spread from there.
The rash is usually painful, itchy, and can often be accompanied by blisters. People who have herpes zoster also usually do not feel well while infected. Other common symptoms to the condition include fever, chills, headaches, an upset stomach, and an increased sensitivity to light. Note that these are among the most common symptoms, but this is far from a comprehensive listing of all the signs of a shingles infection.
The varicella-zoster virus, from which herpes zoster gets its name, is the cause of shingles. This is also the same virus that causes chicken pox, and once a person has had chicken pox, the infection may lie dormant in one’s nerve cells. These dormant viral cells can reactivate as shingles when the conditions are appropriate. Also, anyone that has been exposed to the virus can be infected. Note that shingles and chicken pox, while caused by the same viral agent, are not the same illness and require different treatments.
For a person to get shingles, they must have been exposed to the virus or have had chicken pox in the past. Age is considered a major factor in infections, with over half of reported cases manifesting in people who are over the age of 60. This is believed to be due to the weakened immune systems of these people – those with immune system problems are known to be more likely to be infected. Shingles is a common problem for those who have HIV or AIDS, or in cancer patients. Those with treatment regimens that include radiation and chemotherapy, along with certain steroids, are also prone to the problem. There are also some patients who develop it for no apparent reason.