Your chickenpox experience may be more than a childhood memory. Bumps on the skin of the spine, if accompanied by other specific symptoms, could indicate that you have shingles. Shingles, or herpes zoster, is a condition caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. Shingles is a painful, blistering rash that requires treatment.
Although the rash is the hallmark sign of shingles, it is usually not the first symptom to appear. One-sided pain, tingling or burning is typically the first symptom. Several days later, a red rash appears that commonly involves a narrow area from the spine around to the front of the stomach or chest, although it may include the face, eyes, mouth and ears. Fluid-filled blisters may form, break open, dry out and crust over. Shingles is usually more painful, but involves less itching than chickenpox. Body-wide symptoms may accompany shingles and include fever, chills, general malaise and headache, to name a few.
After you get chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in certain nerves of the body. Years later, the virus becomes active again, causing shingles. The location of the rash on the body usually corresponds with the location of the affected nerves. Exactly what causes the virus to become active again is unclear. A temporary weakness in immunity caused by illness, trauma or stress may awaken the virus If you are older than 60 or had chickenpox before the age of 1, you may be more likely to develop shingles, according to the MedlinePlus website.
Without treatment, shingles usually resolves itself in a few weeks and rarely recurs However, if diagnosed within 72 hours, patients with severe cases of shingles or decreased immunity may be prescribed anti-viral medication. The use of anti-viral medication also decreases the risk of developing post-herpetic neuralgia, a complication of shingles in which numbness, tingling, itching and pain persist months or even years after the rash has cleared. Anti-inflammatory medication and pain relievers may also be prescribed to control swelling and pain. Cool, wet compresses and soothing baths and lotions can be used to provide relief.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved a vaccine for people age 60 and older who have never had shingles. In one study, the vaccine has decreased the risk of developing shingles by more than 50 percent, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. The vaccine should not be given to people with a compromised immune system, such as those with HIV or active cancer. If a child or an adult has direct contact with a shingles rash, but has not had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine, he may develop chickenpox.
Because shingles is part of a group of viruses called herpes viruses, it is often confused with the virus that causes genital herpes. While they are both in the same family of viruses, they are different viruses. Varicella-zoster is the virus that causes shingles and herpes simplex is the virus that causes genital herpes, a sexually transmitted disease.