Shingles – All You Need to Know
Shingles is an infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Even after the chickenpox infection is over, the virus may live in your nervous system for years before reactivating as shingles. Shingles may also be referred to as herpes zoster.
Shingles is an infection that causes a painful rash. If you notice the following, please get medical advice as soon as possible.
CONTACT 111 or Speak to a member of our team.
The first signs of shingles can be:
- a tingling or painful feeling in an area of skin
- a headache or feeling generally unwell
- A rash will appear a few days later
Usually, you get shingles on your chest and tummy, but it can appear on your face, eyes, and genitals.
The shingles rash appears as red blotches on your skin, on one side of your body only. A rash on both the left and right of your body is unlikely to be shingles
Who is at risk for shingles?
There is a common misconception that those who have had chicken pox can’t get shingles. This is NOT true. Shingles can occur in anyone who has had chickenpox. To confuse things slightly: you cannot get shingles from someone with chickenpox but you CAN get chickenpox from someone with shingles.
However, certain factors put people at risk for developing shingles.
Risk factors include:
- being 60 or older
- having diseases that weaken the immune system, such as HIV, AIDS, or cancer
- having had chemotherapy or radiation treatment
- taking drugs that weaken the immune system, such as steroids or medications given after an organ transplant
Shingles and Pregnancy
If you are pregnant and get shingles, there is no danger to your pregnancy or baby.
However, you should be referred to a specialist, as you may need antiviral treatment.
How long does shingles last?
It can take up to four weeks for the rash to heal. Your skin can be painful for weeks after the rash has gone, but it usually settles over time.
IMPORTANT: Stay off work or school if the rash is still oozing fluid (weeping) and cannot be covered, or until the rash has dried out.
You’re only infectious to others while the rash oozes fluid.
You can cover the rash with loose clothing or a non-sticky dressing.
How to treat shingles symptoms
- take paracetamol to ease pain
- keep the rash clean and dry to reduce the risk of infection
- wear loose-fitting clothing
- use a cool compress (a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel or a wet cloth) a few times a day
- do not let dressings or plasters stick to the rash
- do not use antibiotic cream – this slows healing
A shingles vaccine is available on the NHS for people in their 70s. It helps reduce your risk of getting shingles.
If you get shingles after being vaccinated, the symptoms can be much milder.