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Shingles, otherwise known as Herpes Zoster, is a painful, blistering rash caused by the chickenpox virus that only affects a limited area of skin and makes you feel very lethargic and run down for several weeks.
You may start to feel tired and have a tender area a few days before any rash appears. The rash starts off as red spots which then turn into blisters fairly rapidly. They only ever affect one side of the body, left or right and never cross the midline. This is because the blisters come out on an area of skin which is supplied by one nerve.
The rash may affect any part of the body including head and limbs. You should see your doctor straight away if the shingles is affecting the side of your head and especially if it is near your eye. The rash, which is very painful, usually crusts over within a week. Some people are left with pain in the area for many months and this is termed post herpetic neuralgia.
People often have depression with shingles as well as general debility and exhaustion and may require up to three weeks off work.
You can only get shingles if you have previously had chicken pox. The virus lies dormant in the nerves and is triggered usually by your body's defences being low, stress or through other infections. You cannot get shingles from being near other people with either shingles or chickenpox.
However, whilst you have the blisters which contain virus particles, you should stay away from people who have not had chicken pox as they may catch it from you.
You will need to take regular pain relief or even an anti-inflammatory drug. Calamine lotion may soothe the rash, too. Your doctor will prescribe an antiviral drug, usually in the form of tablets, if caught early enough. This will reduce the severity and length of time of the illness. If any of the blisters become infected they will be more red and angry-looking and this may require a course of antibiotics from your doctor.