• Herpes Zoster: Signs and Symptoms, treatment options and what do expect next

    Approximately 20,000 Australian adults between the ages of 70 and 79 contract shingles each year. Shingles, otherwise known as herpes zoster, is a serious virus caused by a reactivation of a common childhood illness, the chicken pox. When you get the chicken pox, the virus remains latent in your body and eventually can result in shingles.

    Symptoms

    The main symptom of shingles is a burning feeling on your skin and an eventual blistering rash in the same area.
    Other symptoms can include: a headache, fever, fatigue, and sensitivity to bright lights. Often, the other symptoms will arise before the rash. The rash can last up to two weeks. It usually forms a belt-like stripe on one side of the body. Small blisters will form, which will burst and then crust over. Eventually, they will fall off. This is all part of the healing process of shingles.

    A rare condition called post-herpetic neuralgia can sometimes occur.

    This is when the pain remains even after the rash and other symptoms are gone. In some instances, complications from shingles can lead to eye problems, pneumonia, hearing issues, brain swelling, and death. Any adult Australian who has had chicken pox, even a mild case, in their lifetime, is at risk of contracting shingles.

    The shingles usually strikes older people and your risk continues to increase as you age.

    People with compromised immune systems, even younger people, are at a greater risk. According to the research by stiaustralia.org, the most effective way of preventing shingles is to receive the Zostavax (shingles) vaccine. However, this vaccine is not safe for individuals who are immuno-compromised. Australian health officials recommend Zostavax for adults 50 and over. Most Australian citizens age 70 and over are eligible to receive their shingles vaccination at no cost through the Australian National Immunisation Program (NIP).  The possible side effects of the vaccine include a headache, pain or swelling at the injection site, and tiredness.While older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are at no greater risk of contracting shingles, there are specific resources in the form of brochures and posters available to them. They are also eligible to receive a free shingles vaccine if they are between the ages of 70 and 79. 

     If you suspect that you have shingles, you should see your primary care doctor immediately

    If you have blisters, they can test the fluid to see if there are any traces of the virus. If caught early, your doctor can prescribe an antiviral medication for you, as well as an antibiotic, if necessary, for the rash. There are also effective pain medications available, if needed. In addition, there are some things you can do at home to help relieve some of the discomfort you are feeling from shingles. Soaking in a lukewarm oatmeal bath will help to soothe the rash and will support the healing process of the blisters. Do not use hot water, which will only make the rash worse. To prevent transmitting the virus, make sure to launder your towel after drying off and do not share it with anyone. Several times a day, apply moist, cool compresses directly to the rash to relieve the pain. Also, a baking soda and cornstarch paste applied directly on the affected area will relieve the itching associated with the rash. Find an unscented, hypoallergenic lotion that contains capsaicin in it. This will act as an anti-inflammatory and will feel soothing on your skin. During this time, be sure to consume a nutritious diet with healing foods that contain vitamins A, B, C and E. Leafy green vegetables, orange and yellow fruits, and chicken and eggs are all good foods to eat while recovering from shingles. Avoid high sugar foods and juices, fried foods, nuts, and refined carbohydrates, as these all weaken the immune system While there is no sound scientific evidence at this time that proves there are any natural medicines to specifically treat shingles, there are some remedies that may support the healing process by helping you to relax and fight the virus. Green tea, lemon balm, and melatonin are all harmless natural remedies that may be helpful. For more information on the shingles vaccine in Australia, access their National Information Hotline at 1-800-671-811 or contact your specific territory health service directly.


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