health Aug 21, 2021
This is an electron microscopic image of the 1976 isolate of Ebola virus. The internal structures of the filamentous particle are visible, including the nucleocapsid and other structural viral proteins, and the outer viral envelope is covered with surface projections. The characteristic “6-shape” of the virus is evident. See PHIL 23185, for a black and white version of this image.
Photo by CDC / Unsplash

The virus Varicella-zoster that causes chickenpox is also responsible for a painful condition known as Shingles. The medical term for it is Herpes zoster. Shingles belongs to the herpes virus group, so this virus is known as herpes zoster.

Shingles generally occur in childhood, but it is more common in later life.
Elderly people are the most susceptible. It is most common in people over the age of 50.
It mostly occurs in men and women aged 60 or above. However, the virus may reappear in people of all ages who have recovered from chickenpox.
It commonly strikes around the shoulder and waist, on one side of the face and one eye, and sometimes down the arm and across the front of the chest.
If the virus affects an eye, it can cause permanent damage by scratching the cornea.


Following an attack of chickenpox, some of the virus particles survive and lie dormant for many years in nervous tissue.
Suppression of the immune system, longer periods of stress, medication with steroid drugs, aging, certain diseases like cancers, HIV and AIDS cause the virus to replicate and migrate along the nerve causing burning sensation and blisters on the skin.
If the rash is covered, the risk of spreading the virus is low and it is less contagious than chickenpox.


Infection appears in the form of one or more distinct bands rather than a body-wide rash.
The most common symptom of shingles is severe pain, numbness, and itching on a specific part of the skin, or on a single side of the body.
A rash appears 1-5 days after the pain starts. Later, the rashes develop into itchy fluid-filled blisters. Sometimes, the blisters merge and form a solid red band that looks like a severe burn.
In the case of people with weakened immune system, the rash may be severe and look like chickenpox rash.
Optical shingles affect the eye and cause painful eye inflammation. It causes permanent damage by damaging the cornea. This leads to temporary or permanent loss of vision.
Within 7-10 days, the blisters will dry up and form scabs or crusts and at this stage, the rash is not infectious.
Other symptoms of shingles are fever, headache, nausea, muscle pain and weakness, joint pain, swollen glands (lymph nodes), stomach upset etc.

Rarely, shingles may cause pneumonia, brain inflammation (encephalitis), or death.


At present, there is no specific treatment to get rid of the shingles virus from the body, but several measures can be taken to get relief from the symptoms

To pacify and relieve the itching, Calamine lotion can be applied.

  • To prevent itching at night Antihistamines can be used.
  • Painkillers prescribed by a doctor are used to get relief from the pain.
  • To reduce the risk of infection, the rash should be kept dry and clean.
  • Loose-fitting clothes are advised to prevent rupture of the rash.
  • Antiviral medicine may stop the virus multiplying, and reduce severity and duration.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the Zostavax vaccine for people aged 60 and above.

Shingles never spread through coughing or sneezing but the direct contact with fluid from the blisters can spread the infection. The person is not contagious before the development of blisters and after the formation of crusts.


A. Sandhya

M.Sc Zoology

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