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Shingles - Medical Malpractice
Shingles is also called a herpes zoster infection and is a reinfection of the nerve roots of the spinal cord or the base of the brain with the chicken pox virus. You need to have had the chicken pox in the past in order to get shingles. It is a painful condition that often causes a rash on the left or right side of the body but not on both sides of the body at the same time. The rash looks interesting, appearing as a band across a dermatome or single nerve root supply area. It is a disease more common in the elderly and in those undergoing stress, having an injury and taking certain medications. It is a self limited disease that resolves on its own without further symptoms in most cases. Some patients will develop post-herpetic neuralgia or pain in the affected area that lasts beyond the actual infection.
The cause of shingles is the chicken pox virus. When a child gets chicken pox, the virus harbours itself in the base of the nerve roots and "sleeps there" until it is reawakened by some kind of trigger (see above). When the virus becomes reactivated, it only causes a rash in the area the nerve root supplies and inflames the nerve, leading to pain in the nerve. You cannot catch shingles from a person who has the shingles virus but, if you haven't had chicken pox, you can get the chicken pox from that individual.
The main symptoms of shingles occur in stages. In the beginning, you might have a headache or light sensitivity or you may feel you have the flu even though you have no fever. Then you develop itching, pain or tingling in the specific area associated with the virus. A rash breaks out over several days and becomes clusters of small blisters occurring throughout the dermatome. The blisters become fluid-filled and eventually crust over. A scar can form after the blisters heal. The rash may be mild or may be very severe. The blisters heal over two to four weeks time. You can also feel weak or dizzy as a result of having shingles. Changes in vision can occur if the rash is on your face.
There is no real cure for the shingles virus. If you get immunized with the chicken pox virus before getting chicken pox, you cannot get shingles. There is treatment for shingles that can make the disease less painful and heal the shingles sores faster if you start the treatment early enough (within one to two days of getting the rash). You can also take long term antidepressant therapy if you get post herpetic neuralgia or prolonged pain after getting shingles. Some people use capsaicin cream, which diminishes substance P (a pain chemical) and makes it less painful to have post herpetic neuralgia. Pain medications other than those mentioned above can be used to block the painful symptoms of herpes zoster. You should take care of all shingles lesions so they don't get infected and cover them around children or those who have never had the chicken pox virus. Avoid too much contact with others until you can get the sores to heal. Be careful not to expose pregnant women or those with a weakened immune system when you have active herpes zoster or shingles. Be careful around babies who have not yet been immunized against the chicken pox virus.
Any person who has had the chicken pox can come down with shingles at some point in their lives. It is more common in those who are older than age 50, have an autoimmune disease that means the body is attacking its own cells and in those who are undergoing a great deal of emotional or physical stress.LEGAL HELPLINE: ☎ 855 804 7125
The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here