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What are shingles?

We think my husband has shingles. What causes them, and what can we do to treat them?
Your husband should definitely discuss this issue with his primary care physician. Shingles is the term used to describe an infection caused by the varicella virus, otherwise known as the virus responsible for chickenpox. Varicella is part of the herpes virus family, and all of these viruses are capable of causing what is known as latent infection in which the virus can remain dormant without causing clinical signs of infection for years. In many cases, patients will be infected as children, but even after recovering from an attack of chickenpox, the virus will lie dormant in the nervous tissue for years. Age, stress, and systemic illness can lead to viral reactivation leading to shingles, a pain group of vesicles along the distribution of an affected nerve. For this reason the group of lesions typically follow a line across the body, as the virus is found in the nerve tissue itself. As you and your husband are probably discovering, unfortunately shingles attacks can be very, very painful. In patients with other underlying disease or with outbreaks in concerning areas, antiviral medication can be used to try and treat the virus. In addition, a range of medications can be used to try and relieve the neuropathic pain. Unfortunately, once a person has had shingles once they can always develop a recurrent attack. It is possible to be vaccinated against the shingles virus. Any treatment options or possible vaccination should be discussed with your husband's doctor. Any new illnesses or changes in health should always be evaluated by a physician.
This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.

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