What is the Shingles Virus?

Posted by Kia Crawford on August 1st, 2012 in Body, Education | No Comments

Many of us remember the itchy discomfort experienced in our youth from chicken pox, a virus associated with the herpes virus family. Mom would soak you in oatmeal or throw you in the bath with your affected sibling so you both would be exposed together. At the time, most thought of chickenpox as deadly if infected in adulthood, so was imperative that it was contracted as a child. But chicken pox, known as a childhood illness, can also bring about another illness much later in life as a senior adult. This illness is called Shingles and is more prevalent in people over the age of 65. Some of our residents at Dogwood Forest of Assisted Living in Gaineville, Ga. have been affected with shingles. And it is no fun.

Like its itchy cousin chicken pox, shingles is also a virus that is affiliated with the herpes virus family. It is a type of herpes zoster that causes a blistering skin rash due to varicella-zoster which causes the chicken pox virus. Unlike chickenpox, which results in itchy discomfort, shingles is very painful with a burning sensation so intense many describe the affected region as feeling like hot coals. Shingles leaves a red rash across the body. If an adult or child has direct contact with the shingles rash and has not had chickenpox as a child or a chickenpox vaccine, they can develop chickenpox, rather than shingles.


Typically the first symptoms are one sided pain, tingling or burning. These symptoms are followed by a blister outbreak that appear like tiny ulcers. They will eventually dry, crust, and fall off within a two week time frame. The rash can be   found on the torso, but can be seen around the ears, face, mouth and eyes. Some may also experience chills, abdominal pain, fever, genital lesions, headache, joint pain, swollen glands, and loss of taste.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Most people are diagnosed with shingles by a doctors visual examination. However, sometimes a skin sample is taken. For treatment, an virus fighting antiviral which could reduce the chances of complication, help manage pain, and limit the course of the virus. This antiviral works better if taken early within 24 hours of the start of symptoms. In order to reduce inflammation, medications such as prednisone may be used to reduce swelling. The best method to soothe the pain is to use wet compresses. Similar to home remedies used for chicken pox, colloidal oatmeal or calamine lotion can be used to soothe the discomfort. Bed rest is also recommended. Like chicken pox, shingles is contagious and precaution should be taken to avoid further contamination. Items that might be contaminated should be washed in boiling water before reuse. It is best that a person with shingles remains isolated while lesions are oozing. Persons who have never had chicken pox should avoid a person with shingles due to the increase risk of having chicken pox as an adult which could be very dangerous. Pregnant women should follow the same advice. The virus should clear within 2-3 weeks.