Herpes zoster, or shingles, is caused by a viral infection called varicella-zoster. The virus is initially contracted and known as “chicken pox.” However, it can remain inactive in the nervous system until it reemerges, usually years later, in the form of herpes zoster. Symptoms often occur in stages, beginning with pain, tenderness, burning, or itching on one section of the body. This is followed by a rash that is characterized by red skin and itchy, fluid-filled blisters. These are sometimes accompanied by fever, fatigue, headache, light sensitivity, chills, or nausea. The cause of the virus’s reactivation is not certain, but many physicians believe it is related to the body’s immune response, as those who have a weakened immune system are considered to be at higher risk.
The herpes zoster rash usually disappears on its own within two weeks, but antiviral medication can help to reduce the duration of the infection. Doctors may also recommend pain management medication, topical numbing treatments or pain relievers, pain relieving injection therapy, or even anti-depressants.
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