In Indonesia, herpes zoster is referred to as “snakepox” or “firepox”. But for many parts of the world, you may have heard of this illness by its more common name – shingles.

Herpes zoster is an interesting disease. This is because while we know what causes the disease, doctors aren’t really sure how or why they occur. However, we do know that herpes zoster only infects adults who had previously caught chickenpox in their life.

So, have you or your loved ones ever caught chickenpox during childhood? If so, then you may be at risk of catching herpes zoster. Without further ado, here are 3 things you need to know about herpes zoster!

1. No, Herpes Zoster is Not a Sexually Transmitted Disease

First of all, know that herpes zoster is not a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Herpes zoster is a totally different disease compared to genital herpes or herpes simplex.

If you want to know more about STDs, you may be interested to read For What Cause Is STD Testing Necessary?

In any case, you’d be surprised to know that herpes zoster is closer to chickenpox than you might have thought.

In 2021, Harvard Health Publishing published an article explaining that the cause of herpes zoster is the varicella-zoster virus. This particular virus is the same exact virus that caused people, especially children, to catch chickenpox.

Then, after patients recover from said chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus can stay dormant in the body even for years. And when it infects the nerve cells, the virus could eventually reactivate later in life causing shingles to occur.

Simply put, shingles is a case where the dormant varicella-zoster virus reactivates in a former chickenpox patient. So, if you do not have any history of catching chickenpox, it is pretty much impossible for you to catch this disease.

However, be careful not to misunderstand this disease. While shingles themselves are not infectious, contact with patients could result in people catching chickenpox, especially in those who have never caught the disease or been vaccinated against it.

2. Herpes Zoster Symptoms May Not Be Fatal But Could Grow Severe

We know that herpes zoster (shingles) is a disease that originates from chickenpox. So, as you would imagine, symptoms of shingles are related to those often mentioned in skin diseases.

However, shingles are a bit more unique because it also attacks the nervous system which can cause many nerve-related problems. 

As Harvard Health Publishing noted, symptoms of herpes zoster include:

  • Sensory problems. Herpes zoster can cause oversensitivity, burning, tingling, and itching sensations in specific areas of the skin. Usually, these pains occur around your upper body parts and limbs.
  • Skin damages. In less than a week after sensory problems occur, the skin develops rashes and even blisters mostly in a linear distribution. They are very painful and itchy and will stay that way for about a week until they naturally heal.
  • Other bodily conditions. During the whole process, nerve damage may also cause conditions like fatigue, muscle aches, and perhaps mild fever.

While these symptoms may not sound like they are dangerous, know that herpes zoster could lead to devastating complications. Shingles could grow severe and even permanently damage important nerves and sensory organs.

The disease could lead to herpes zoster ophthalmicus. It is a condition where shingles also attack the eye and its nerves which could potentially lead to blindness. Or it might attack the facial muscle nerves and cause facial paralysis – a condition called Bell’s palsy.

Worse, it might also infect the ear developing into herpes zoster oticus or the Ramsay Hunt Syndrome type 2. In fact, this is the same disease that the world-famous singer Justin Bieber is suffering from which led to him postponing his current concert tour.

This complication may lead to hearing loss, facial paralysis, dizziness, nausea, and other debilitating conditions as Justin himself also shared his experience of suffering the disease.

3. Even If Shingles Is Treatable, You Should Still Seek Medical Care

Much like most chickenpox cases, patients of herpes zoster can naturally recover after a few weeks. In most cases, all you’d have to do is take proper rest, eat healthily, drink enough water, and maintain hygiene.

The disease is also treatable and there are medicines that you could take during the early stages of shingles. According to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, taking antiviral medicine – like acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir – is effective in keeping the disease from growing severe. Pain medicines can also be prescribed to lighten the painful discomfort from the rash or nerve pains.

Regardless, it is recommended that you seek immediate health care consultation if you experience symptoms of shingles. This is because as time passes, the varicella-zoster virus causing herpes zoster could do further damage to the nerves. This could lead to medicines becoming less effective as the disease grow severe.

Furthermore, you can even take preventive action by taking proper vaccination against the disease. In fact, people who take the chickenpox vaccine are significantly at less risk of either catching shingles or experiencing severe complications if they do get shingles.

You may be interested to read Should I Take Booster Vaccine against COVID-19? Yes, And Here Is Why

Conclusion

The first thing we learn about herpes zoster, or shingles, in this article is that the disease is not contagious. Herpes zoster is also not a sexually transmitted disease and it only occurs in people who are former chickenpox patients.

Symptoms of shingles are easily identifiable through observing sensory problems or skin damage on the body. However, while these symptoms are not fatal, they could worsen and cause severe complications if not treated properly.

Therefore, if you are experiencing symptoms of shingles or other nerve and skin diseases, please seek medical help. It’s always better to be safe and consult medical experts sooner than be sorry for not getting treatment later.

If you are traveling to or currently residing in Bali, especially Kuta and Kerobokan area, Puri Medical Clinic is always ready to be your trusted health care solution. We provide the best emergency care, health consultation, and vaccination programs that you need to protect yourself from herpes zoster.

If you are interested in seeking our services, please do give us a call at +(62) 85 100 103 103 or email us at [email protected]. Our team of experienced and high-quality doctors and specialists is always ready 24/7 to provide the best health care for you.

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