What is shingles, what are the symptoms, is it contagious, what does the rash look like and how’s it linked to chicken pox?

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SHINGLES is an infection that causes a painful rash and blotchy patches on the skin.

The condition is serious enough to merit seeing your GP — so what are the symptoms to look out for?

 Shingles causes a blotchy and itchy rash to appear on the skin

Getty – Contributor
Shingles causes a blotchy and itchy rash to appear on the skin

What is shingles and how is it linked to chicken pox?

Shingles is caused by an infection that re-triggers the varicella zoster virus (VZV).

VZV firsts infects the body when you get chicken pox, and the virus can remain inactive in nerve cells to reappear as shingles.

It is not fully understood what can trigger shingles, but old age, a poor immune system and having had chicken pox before 18-months are risk factors.

What are the symptoms of shingles and what does the rash look like?

The most common first signs of shingles are tingling or pains in patches of the skin along with headaches.

A rash can then appear, usually on the chest or stomach — but it can also appear on the face, eyes and genitals, according to the NHS website.

The shingles rash appears as red blotches on your skin, on one side of your body only. A rash on both the left and right of your body is unlikely to be shingles.

The blotches become itchy blisters which ooze fluid. A few days later the blisters dry out and scab.

The rash can form a band that only appears on one side of your body. The skin remains painful until after the rash has gone.

You should speak to a GP as soon as you suspect you have shingles.

Medication can speed up the recovery.

How do you treat shingles?

Along with taking prescribed medication, the NHS recommends:

  • using painkillers to ease shingles pain
  • keeping the rash clean and dry to reduce risk of infection
  • wearing loose-fitting clothing
  • buying calamine lotion to ease itching
  • using a cool compress (a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel or a wet cloth) a few times a day

You shouldn’t let dressings or plasters stick to the rash or use antibiotic creams as they slow down the healing process.

Is shingles contagious?

Shingles are contagious while the rash oozes fluid — but you can’t get shingles from someone with shingles or chickenpox.

You can get chickenpox from someone with shingles, if you haven’t had chickenpox before.

If you’re pregnant and you get shingles it shouldn’t be a problem, but tell your GP anyway.

The NHS recommends avoiding contact with:

  • pregnant women who have not had chickenpox before
  • people with a weakened immune system, such as someone having chemotherapy
  • babies less than one month old (unless it is your own baby, as they should be protected from the virus by your immune system)
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