About Herpes Zoster (Shingles)


Herpes Zoster (Shingles) is a reactivation of the varicella virus (chickenpox). Shingles often presents as a sensitive rash on only one side of the body. The only way you can get shingles is if you have had varicella virus in the past. Varicella virus remains inactive in the body and may reactivate as shingles. While half of all shingles cases occur in adults over 60, college students may be at increased risk due to external stressors (e.g. lack of sleep, anxiety, etc.).

How is it transmitted?

A person with active shingles can spread the virus when the rash is in the blister-phase. A person is not infectious before the blisters appear. Until your rash has developed crusts, avoid contact with pregnant women, people who have never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine, premature or low birth weight infants, and people with weakened immune systems (e.g. people receiving immunosuppressive medications, chemotherapy, organ transplant recipients, and people with HIV infection). Once the rash has developed crusts, the person is no longer contagious.

Signs and Symptoms

The main symptom of shingles is a painful rash that develops on one side of the face or body. Individuals may experience pain, itching, or tingling 1-5 days prior to developing a blistering rash. Other symptoms may include fever, headache, chills, or upset stomach. Typically, the rash scabs over in 7-10 days, and clears up within 2-4 weeks.

Treatment

While shingles does not require treatment, antiviral medications are available to shorten the duration of symptoms and reduce acute and chronic pain. Medications are most effective if started as soon as shingles is suspected.

Prevention

If you think you have shingles, please contact Student Health Service 215-746-3535, press option 1 to speak with a nurse.

If you have a shingles rash, avoid touching or scratching and keep it covered to reduce the spread of herpes zoster virus.

Practice good hygiene:

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol
  • Avoid external stressors (e.g. lack of sleep, anxiety, etc.) as much as possible

There is a shingles vaccine available for adults over 50.

Sources

http://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/overview.html


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(updated 8/7/2015)