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Herpes Zoster (Shingles)

What is herpes zoster?

Herpes zoster, or shingles, is a reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, which results in a painful rash of small blisters on a strip of skin anywhere on the body. On some occasions, even after the rash is gone, the pain may continue for a prolonged period of time.

Herpes zoster is caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person has had chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in the nerves. Herpes zoster is more common in persons with a depressed immune system, and in persons over the age of 50. It is quite rare in children and the symptoms are mild compared to what an adult may experience. Children who have weakened immune systems may experience the same, or more severe, symptoms as adults.

Children most at risk for herpes zoster are those who had chicken pox during the first year of life or whose mothers had chicken pox very late during pregnancy.

What are the symptoms of herpes zoster?

Herpes zoster most often occurs on the trunk and buttocks. However, it may appear on the arms, legs, or face. The following are the most common symptoms of herpes zoster. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • skin hypersensitivity in the area where the herpes zoster appears
  • mild rash, which appears after five days and first looks like small, red spots that turn into blisters
  • blisters which turn yellow and dry
  • rash which usually goes away in one to two weeks
  • rash is usually localized to one side of the body

The symptoms of herpes zoster may resemble other skin conditions. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

How is herpes zoster diagnosed?

Diagnosis usually involves obtaining a medical history of your child and performing a physical examination. Diagnosis may also include:

  • skin scrapings - gently scraping the blisters to determine if the virus is shingles or another virus.
  • blood tests

Treatment for herpes zoster:

Specific treatment for herpes zoster will be determined by your child's physician based on:

  • your child's age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the condition
  • your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the condition
  • your opinion or preference

Medication may help alleviate some of the pain, but the disease has to run its course. Immediate treatment with antiviral drugs may help lessen some of the symptoms. Use of medication will be determined by your child's physician based on the age of the child and the severity of the symptoms.

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Online Resources of Infectious Diseases

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