Tips For Shingles (Zoster) Prevention and Treatment

Any person who previously had the chickenpox is at risk of developing shingles. It is not a separate infection but rather a reactivation of the chickenpox virus. Most people have the chickenpox in childhood but the virus stays dormant for long periods of time – sometimes decades, sometimes lifelong. The symptoms of shingles can be severe and debilitating. Although it may last for only 2 weeks to a month and then resolve completely, there is a risk of shingles recurring. Furthermore early intervention can reduce the severity of the symptoms and possibly shorten the duration of an episode.

How To Cure Shingles?

There is no cure for shingles and there is no guaranteed way to prevent a shingles attack. While chickenpox infection is common in most people, only a small percentage of the population will ever suffer with shingles. The chickenpox virus (varicella zoster virus) migrates to the nerves where it stays dormant. It is believed that when the immune system weakens, then the virus takes the opportunity to reactivate. Therefore a person with shingles can transmit the infection to a person who is not immune to chickenpox.

Treatment for shingles is not always necessary if the symptoms are not severe and there is no risk of complications. Shingles is usually more common in older adults but can occur in children and young adults. Children tend to have milder symptoms compared to adults. Despite the lack of a cure, there are drugs and substances that can be used to shorten the duration of the disease and reduce the chances of complications. One of the major complications is condition known as postherpetic neuralgia. The pain is severe and can last for a long time after the shingles rash clears.

Unfortunately there is no cure for postherpetic neuralgia as well and your doctor may just prescribe medication to control the pain. Although shingles is incurable, it is not a condition that is fatal. Nevertheless shingles may be a sign of a weak immune system that can make you prone to other, sometimes deadly, infections.

shingles on the back

Picture of shingles on the back from Wikimedia

Consider Taking The Shingles Vaccine

There is a vaccine available for shingles but it is only an option for people who are 50 years and older. It contains the live virus and therefore should not be used by people who have a weak immune system. The vaccine cannot treat shingles, meaning that if you already have shingles then the vaccine will not help to treat it. In fact there is no guarantee that a person will not get shingles even if they are immunized with the vaccine. However, those who do get shingles after taking the vaccine will at least reduce the severity of the attack and are less likely to develop complications such as postherpetic neuralgia.


Use Immune Globulins, Not Boosters

Varicella-zoster immune globulin (VZIG) may be administered to people who are exposed to chickenpox or shingles and may be at risk of severe disease. These antibodies can help a person to fight the infection by the chickenpox virus. It may be used on pregnant women, newborn babies and people with a weakened immune system. Immune globulins are not immune boosters. These antibodies would be normally produced by the body if a person had taken the vaccine or previously had the illness. Nutritional and herbal products marketed as immune boosters have not shown to be clinically effective and should not be used as a means to prevent or treat shingles.

Avoid Contact Contagious People

Shingles is not contagious, meaning that a person who has it cannot transmit shingles to another person. However, the chickenpox virus that is reactivated in shingles can be transmitted. A person who has chickenpox can spread the virus through airborne droplets that are dispersed into the air by coughing or sneezing. It can also be spread when an uninfected person without immunity to chickenpox touches the rash in a person with chickenpox.  A person with shingles is not as contagious. But as with chickenpox, making direct contact with the shingles rash can increase your risk of contracting chickenpox if you were not immunized against it earlier in life, or if you did not take the vaccine.

Try To Keep Your Immunity Up

Shingles is often associated with a weakened immune system. HIV, cancer and cancer treatments, using corticosteroids for long periods and taking medication to prevent rejection of an organ transplant are some of the known risk factors for developing shingles. However, there are other factors that may lead to weakening of your immune defenses for long periods of time. Remember that the strength of your immune system directly correlates with your general health status. Therefore a healthy diet, adequate exercise and other lifestyle factors that contribute to a good general health status are important measures to prevent shingles.


Manage Your Stress Levels

Lifestyle stress has a direct impact on your immune system. It involves both physical and psychological stress. While it is accepted as a part of the modern lifestyle, you should nevertheless try your best to avoid it or at least learn to cope with it. Inadequate sleep, physical overexertion, mental strain and emotional upsets are some of the common stresses experienced in life. While the body can deal with it over a short period of time, in the long term it can be detrimental to your health. The weakening of your immune system does not only make you more likely to develop shingles but also other more serious infections like TB (tuberculosis) especially if you had been previously exposed to the mycobacteria.


Take Antivirals And Pain Relievers

Most cases of shingles do not lead to complications and will resolve on its own in time without any treatment. Supportive treatment in the way of sterile dressings for the skin, anti-itch lotions and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are sufficient. However, antiviral medication may be used in people who are at risk of prolonged episodes with severe symptoms and the risk of complications. It is not a cure but simply speeds up the healing process and can reduce the chance of complications. Some people experience severe pain that has to be treated separately. Your doctor may prescribe tricyclic antidepressants, anticonvulsants, narcotic painkillers or topical anesthetics for the pain.


Please note that any information or feedback on this website is not intended to replace a consultation with a health care professional and will not constitute a medical diagnosis. By using this website and the comment service you agree to abide by the comment terms and conditions as outlined on this page