Shingles (Herpes zoster): causes, symptoms

Shingles is an infectious disease, the causative agent of which (herpes virus type 3) also causes chickenpox. Against it is sometimes effective:
Since the virus, penetrating the sensitive nerve endings, is built into the genetic apparatus of nerve cells, it is impossible to remove it from the body. In people who have had chickenpox, the virus goes into a latent (inactive) state.
When the immune system weakens, the virus becomes active, affecting the skin. The disease occurs more often in the elderly and people with immunodeficiency disorders.


The virus is transmitted from a person with chickenpox or shingles by contact or airborne droplets. The person who is infected initially (most often a child) becomes ill with chickenpox. Penetrating through the mucous membranes into the blood and lymph, the virus reaches the nerve cells, where it begins to multiply. After recovery, the virus persists in the body for life, often in an inactive state. Infection awakening is associated with immunodeficiency caused by hypothermia, prolonged intake of steroid hormones, immunosuppression (after transplantation), chemo- and radiation therapy, as well as a general decrease in immunity in patients with blood diseases, cancer and viral diseases. Shingles is very severe in HIV-infected patients.

Classification of shingles

The clinical picture of herpes zoster is composed of skin manifestations and neurological disorders. A distinction is made between typical and atypical forms of the disease. In the atypical form, a mild course of the disease is possible, in which papules develop in foci of hyperemia, which do not transform into vesicles.

In herpes zoster, the spread of the pathological process corresponds to a certain area of the skin and does not cross the anatomical midline of the torso. Most patients are preceded by a burning or itching sensation in a certain area of the skin, as well as pain, which can be stabbing, throbbing, shooting, or of an intermittent or persistent nature. In some patients, the pain syndrome is accompanied by general systemic inflammatory manifestations: fever, malaise, myalgia, headache.

Infection of the central nervous system and lesions of the meningeal, encephalic (symptoms indicate that the virus affects the brain and/or spinal cord and the meninges) or mixed forms of shingles. If the infection spreads along the course of the eye nerve, ophthalmoherpes develops.

If the rash appears on the entire surface of the skin and on the parenchymatous organs (e.g., liver, kidneys), a generalized form of shingles develops. Another type of shingles is hemorrhagic. A characteristic feature is the bloody liquid inside the vesicles.

Symptoms of shingles

The onset of the disease is accompanied by general intoxication, malaise and fever. Nausea and vomiting are possible. Lymph nodes enlarge.
Severe pain along the affected nerve may be constant, but more often it is itchy and increases at night.
As a rule, they are provoked by any irritants: touch of the skin, cold, movement. Some patients complain of a loss of sensitivity in certain areas of the skin, which may be combined with an increase in the pain reaction. Sometimes the pain syndrome in the absence of a skin rash may resemble angina pectoris, myocardial infarction, renal colic or pancreatitis. The period of neuralgia preceding the rash lasts up to 7 days. Nodules then appear on one side of the body, from which blisters form with clear contents that gradually become cloudy. After 3-7 days, most of the vesicles dry out with the formation of yellow-brown crusts. Trauma to the vesicles exposes bright red ulcers. When the ulcers heal, small scabs or scars remain on the skin.
Most often, the rash and pain are in the ribs, lower back and sacrum, less often – along the branches of the trigeminal, facial and auricular nerves, and on the extremities.
Rarely, mucous membranes are affected.