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Learn about the symptoms, vaccination, and treatment of herpes zoster

Learn about the symptoms, vaccination, and treatment of herpes zoster


Itchy rash and painful blisters: The herpes zoster virus causes shingles. But there is vaccination. All information at a glance.

Viral diseases make life difficult for people. But not only is the coronavirus and other seasonal viral diseases common, shingles is also a viral disease that can be serious. At least there is an effective vaccination. In this article you will find answers to all important questions about shingles.

Herpes zoster: what is shingles?

Shingles is a painful rash with spreading, belt-like blisters. The causative agent of the disease is the varicella zoster virus (VZV), which causes two diseases: in addition to shingles, medically known as herpes zoster, and also chicken pox. Most people usually develop the latter in childhood. Once the disease is overcome, the viruses remain in the body and lie dormant there. Many years later — usually in old age, when the body’s immune system weakens — they can become active again and cause shingles.

Who can get shingles?

the The Robert Koch Institute assumes thisEvery second person who reaches the age of 85 will develop shingles at some point in their life. The disease occurs in all age groups, with people over 50 years of age being more susceptible to it. People with a weakened immune system are at increased risk of developing shingles. According to the investigations it conducted RKI In Germany, more than 300,000 people get shingles every year.

Shingles infection: How is it transmitted?

There are two ways to become infected with the VZV virus that causes shingles. The first is contact with someone suffering from chickenpox. The Federal Center for Health Education (BZgA) describes chickenpox as “highly contagious” and writes: “Almost every person who has not had chickenpox will develop the disease if they come into contact with someone who has chickenpox.” VZV is usually transmitted through coughing and sneezing, i.e. through droplet infection. But fluid from chickenpox blisters is also infectious, which can lead to smear infections.

Contact with someone suffering from shingles is considered a second, less contagious possibility of infection. There is no risk of droplet infection here. However, the RKI warns: “However, herpes zoster blisters contain the varicella zoster virus and are therefore contagious.” Anyone who becomes infected with VZV will initially develop chickenpox. Anyone who has ever had chickenpox is at risk of developing shingles.

Can you get shingles multiple times?

Anyone infected with shingles is considered relatively safe. It usually happens only once, writes RKI. But: “Recurrent diseases are sometimes possible.” According to the RKI, the chance of the disease recurring increases from less than 2% after two years to about 6% after eight years in people who are not immunocompromised.

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What symptoms does shingles cause?

There are many symptoms of herpes zoster. Days before the rash appears According to the Professional Association of German Internal Medicine (BDI) The following symptoms actually occur:

  • Burning, digging, or cutting pain on contact with the skin
  • Itching and tingling
  • Touch sensitivity
  • Fever
  • Feeling sick and tired

Acute skin symptoms often appear within a week of the onset of pain:

  • reddish Skin rash (spots, papules)
  • Those filled with liquid Bubbles

Painful blisters often form in small groups, in a belt-like band. According to BZgA, they usually occur on the trunk or head and usually on only half of the body. Depending on the affected part of the face and body, facial paralysis, dizziness, hearing problems, conjunctivitis, and visual disturbances can occur.

According to BDI estimates, shingles resolves in a similar way to chickenpox after two to four weeks if the disease develops naturally. However, complications can occur in people with weakened immune systems such as cancer patients, AIDS patients, or organ transplant recipients. The viruses can then spread uncontrollably and cause life-threatening diseases that also affect organs such as the brain, lungs and liver.

Diagnosis: How is shingles recognized?

“People who suspect they have shingles should seek medical care immediately,” she says. Medical dictionary MSD Manual To illness. To make a diagnosis, the doctor examines the painful area. Pain in a blurry band on one side of the body indicates shingles. “When the characteristic blisters appear in the typical pattern (on a strip of skin representing a skin section), the diagnosis is clear,” the dictionary writes.

In rare cases, if the doctor is unsure, the fluid in the red blisters may be examined in the laboratory by analysis or biopsy. In the event of infection, VSV can be detected there without a doubt.

Shingles treatment: medications and care

Antiviral medications such as acyclovir can prevent the varicella zoster virus from multiplying and speed up the healing process. They work especially well if taken early – another reason why you should seek medical help quickly if you suspect you have shingles. the BDI recommends“It is best to start treatment within 72 hours of the appearance of skin changes or as long as new blisters are still present.”

If shingles occurs, symptoms can also be treated. After all, symptoms and side effects can be alleviated and complications can be prevented at the same time. According to the RKI, “bacterial infection” of affected skin in particular should be avoided. This can be achieved through careful skin care such as daily bathing, topical dressings, and taking anti-itch medications. Painkillers may also be given to relieve suffering.

Shingles vaccination: Can you get the vaccine?

There are two ways to prevent shingles. First of all, vaccination against chickenpox is recommended: since August 2004, varicella vaccination has been recommended for all children and adolescents by the Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO). According to the Current recommendations from STIKO The first dose of the vaccine should be given at eleven months of age, followed by booster vaccinations.

Video: dpa

Against shingles itself, STIKO recommends vaccination with an inactivated vaccine to prevent shingles and long-term nerve pain (postherpetic neuralgia). The recommendation applies to the following groups of people:

  • All people aged 60 and over
  • All people aged 50 or over whose immune system is weakened (eg due to illness, after a bone marrow transplant or organ transplant, during immunosuppressive treatment).
  • All people aged 50 or over who have a serious underlying disease (such as chronic disease of the lungs (COPD), kidneys or intestines, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus or diabetes)

The vaccination consists of two doses, given over a period of at least six months.

According to the RKI, the effectiveness of the inactivated herpes zoster vaccine has been examined in two randomized clinical trials. The effective protection against shingles for people ages 50 and older is 92 percent. Even for people over 70, vaccination still provides 90 percent protection. There was no indication of serious side effects or the occurrence of autoimmune diseases in the approval studies. Therefore, the vaccine is considered safe.

More information about shingles vaccination in adults can be found on the website Information page of the Federal Center for Health Education. And this as well RKI provides many answers to frequently asked questions About shingles and vaccination.