Herpes zoster, also known as shingles is disease caused by varicella zoster virus. Varicella zoster virus is the same virus which causes Chickenpox, and shingles are actually reactivation of this virus. So Herpes zoster or shingles can affect only individuals who have had Chickenpox before (usually in the childhood).

After Chickenpox is gone Herpes zoster virus stays in the bodys nerve tissues but it's kept under control by immune system. Sometimes (in about 10% of cases) it can reactivate later (usually in adults) and cause shingles.

The main symptom of shingles is painful blisters over the skin. But early symptoms (before rash) may include fatigue, headache, sensivity to light, fever or even depression. It can take a few days or even two weeks (rarely), before rash appears. Before rash appearing skin is usually painful and sensitive. The first signs of rash appear as small, red dots quickly turning into blisters. Blisters may be so painful that wearing of clothes may be impossible.

During the rash patient is very contagious (only during the rash not before). After turning blisters into crusts disease is not contagious any more.

shingles_head.jpgRash always affects one side of the body and can appear everywhere.

If it appears on head it can cause seeing or hearing problems.

It can take up to 14 days before rash disappears.

At the end the blisters are turning into crusts and patient is not contagious any more.

It is very important not to scratch these crusts because thay can leave scars.

Sometimes, although very rarely, pain around affected area is present for a couple of months even years after rash disappearing. This condition is known as post herpetic neuralgia and it usually affects older patients. Patient is not contagious during this condition.

Anyway shingles usually lasts for about three weeks (including time before rash appearing), and affected person is usually unable to work.

Although there is no effective cure that can stop this disease, there are few antiviral drugs that can be used as therapy for herpes zoster (Acyclovir, Prophylaxis, Valacyclovir and Famciclovir).
There is a vaccine developed by Merck $ Co. known as Zostavax that can prevent half of the herpes zoster cases.