Shingles or herpes zoster as it is medically referred is caused by varicella zoster virus. It is the same virus which causes chicken pox. Once the person is infected by the virus, it remains in the dormant state in the nerves. The virus gets reactivated when the circumstances are favorable. Contrary to the belief, there are many people who suffer from recurrence of singles after the first episode.
The risk of recurrence increases five times in people who suffer from pain lasting more than two months. People with compromised immunity are vulnerable to recurrence as compared to their counterparts whose immunity is strong.
Once the virus invades the body, it causes unilateral rash and blisters on the body, this means only one side of the body is involved. After the first episode, the virus is not killed, but stays in the dormant state in the spinal nerve roots only to appear again when the circumstances in the body become favorable.
During the first episode there is appearance of rash followed by fluid filled blisters within two to three days. They form scabs within a week. During this period patient may complain of malaise, headache, burning pain around the affected area.
Blisters develop along the nerve path. The virus then settles in the nerve roots until it is reactivated. Usually the recurrence rate is 1 in 3. That means one out of three patients may have the risk of reappearance of shingles. Below are given the risk factors and causes for recurrences.
What Causes Shingles To Keep Recurring?
The risk of recurring shingles increases in people whose immune system is compromised or is very weak. People suffering from HIV whose immune system is weak often develop repeated episodes of shingles. However, it should not be presumed that recurring shingles is indicative of AIDS. On other hand these patients should always test for HIV infection.
Patient suffering from cancer is also susceptible to recurrent shingle infection. Autoimmune diseases and organ transplant patients are equally at risk of recurrence. Sometimes the neuralgic pain lasts more than 2 to 3 months after the initial rash and blisters disappear. These patients are more at risk for suffering another attack of shingles.
The condition is observed more in women than men. The exact etiology underlying the gender discretion is not understood. Recurrence shingles is more common in older age group as compared to young, especially when the first episode occurs in old age. Probably the reason is elderly individuals are known to have less immune level.
Symptoms Of Recurring Shingles
Shingles in a person whose immune status is healthy may usually have rash and blisters. He may also complain of severe burning pain. The lesions are limited only to one part and on a single nerve root. However, in recurring shingles, the person may have more and enlarged blisters which may be distributed to several nerve roots. Meaning, the blisters may be present in many areas of the body. It appears similar to burns. There is risk of secondary bacterial infection.
The lesions will recede within one week in a healthy person who has this episode for the first time. However, with recurrence, the blisters may continue for more than a week and new blisters may appear from time to time. Scab formation is delayed, by two to three weeks.
How To Prevent Recurring Shingles?
There is a shingles vaccine approved by Food and Drug administration called Zostavax. Vaccination is useful in people who are at risk of suffering from shingles. Studies suggest that the disease can be prevented in elderly individuals above the age of 60 by fifty percent.
Also aged people who have suffered from one episode of shingles in the past may benefit from prevention of recurrence. The vaccine helps immune system of the body to defend itself from future episodes.
Eat foods that contain vitamins, especially vitamin C. It helps to build up the immune system. Eat fruits and vegetables as they are rich source of vitamin C.
Certain herbs are believed to be beneficial in preventing recurrent episodes of shingles.