Chickenpox, Shingles, and Herpes –                           Symptoms and Treatment

Herpes is a huge family of viruses that cause a multitude of skin conditions and other illnesses. They are among the most common viral infections in humans, second only to flu and cold viruses. Here, we’re focusing on the most common members of the herpes family, the Varicella-Zoster virus, which causes both chickenpox and shingles, and the herpes simplex (HHV-1 and 2) viruses which typically manifest around the mouth (and are often called “cold sores” or “fever blisters”) or the genitals.

Chickenpox Symptoms

Chickenpox RashSymptoms: The first symptoms of chickenpox usually develop 14 to 16 days after infection. Early symptoms may include fever, lack of appetite, and flulike symptoms such as muscle aches, headaches, sore throat and cough.

The itchy rash that is the hallmark of the infection usually develops 1 or 2 days after the first symptoms start. The rash, a distinctive red spot which is soon crowned with a small blister, often begins on the chest and back, and then spreads to the face, scalp, arms, and legs. New red spots will typically form during the first week of infection, and the typical chickenpox infection will result in about 200-500 blisters. About 10 days after the formation of the first spot, the rash and blisters should be well on their way to healing.

Chickenpox Treatment

  • Treatments for chickenpox focus on alleviating symptoms as there is no cure for the infection. Look for over-the-counter medications/astringents intended to relieve itchiness, blisters, and skin irritation.
  • Cool baths, rest, and exposing the rash to air as much as possible (as opposed to covering it with clothing, bed sheets or blankets) can help to increase comfort and promote healing.
  • If the itchiness cannot be managed with non-prescription topical products, your healthcare provider may recommend an over-the-counter antihistamine.
  • If an infection occurs, your healthcare provider will prescribe antibiotics.
  • Adults who have contracted chickenpox usually receive more aggressive treatment, including anti-viral drugs, to help reduce possible complications.
  • As many as 60% of adults in the United States carry the oral herpes virus. About one million Americans suffer from shingles every year. 98% of adults in the U.S. have had chickenpox, and anyone who has ever had chickenpox is at risk for shingles.
  • 2000 years ago, the Roman emperor Tiberius banned kissing at public events in an attempt to control an oral herpes outbreak.
  • “Chickenpox parties” were very popular before the vaccine that protects against the disease was developed. The idea was to expose children to the disease at a young age so they’d be immune for life and avoid the complications that come with getting it later in life.

Get Medical Help If:

Chickenpox is medically considered to be a mild disease in children. It is more severe when contracted by infants, adolescents, pregnant woman, and anyone with a weakened immune system. Anyone with chickenpox should be monitored for high fever, bacterial infection (pus, odor, redness and extreme tenderness around the spots),disorientation, frequent vomiting, muscle stiffness and difficulty breathing.

Is it contagious? Yes. Until the blisters have dried out and scabbed over, people with chickenpox should avoid contact with anyone who has not had, or been vaccinated against chickenpox, as well as all pregnant women, infants and people with compromised immune systems.

Shingles Symptoms

Shingles RashIn its early stages, shingles may feel like the onset of flu. You may have a headache or muscle stiffness. You may be sensitive to light, feel tired, dizzy, and generally unwell.

These first symptoms are typically followed by a tingling, burning or itching sensation in one part of your body. After a few days – but sometimes not for a week or more – that area will probably develop a rash that turns into clusters of blisters. The rash normally forms from the center of the back to the center of the chest or stomach, but it may occur on the face or elsewhere on the body.

What to expect: Pain from shingles typically lasts for 2 to 4 weeks. You may experience a “pins and needles” sensation, tingling, itching, stabbing, shooting or burning pain in the area of the rash. Your skin may feel extremely sensitive to any sensation and you may have a fever and experience muscle weakness.

Shingles Treatment

  • Prescription antiviral drugs are typically utilized for the treatment of shingles.
  • Your doctor may also prescribe pain killers, and a topical numbing cream, gel, spray or skin patch.
  • An anticonvulsant drug may be prescribed to soothe over-active nerves that cause pain during the height of the infection. Your doctor may recommend taking this drug along with over-the-counter pain relievers.
  • Your healthcare provider may also recommend cool baths, topical astringents, and cool, wet compresses to relieve the rash, reduce blisters, and ease the irritation and itching.

Get Medical Help If:

  • You suspect you have shingles – early treatment with antivirals may lessen the course of the infection
  • Pain does not diminish after 4 weeks
  • Pain is too debilitating for you to manage with over-the-counter remedies
  • Shingles occur near your eye
  • You suspect the shingles outbreak has become infected due to the presence of swelling, increasing and spreading redness in the affected area, a high fever, and pus
  • The rash does not show any signs of improvement after 10 days

Complications: Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), a persistent burning, tingling or pain in the area where the rash was, is the most common complication of the herpes zoster virus. Early antiviral treatment for shingles may help to avert PHN.

Is it contagious? Shingles itself is not contagious but contact with the rash in its active stage can pass the varicella-zoster virus along to someone who hasn’t had chickenpox. Until the blisters have dried out and scabbed over, it’s best for shingles-sufferers to stay away from people who have not had/been vaccinated against chickenpox, pregnant women, children and people with compromised immune systems.

Herpes Symptoms

  • As many as 60% of adults in the United States carry the oral herpes virus, more commonly referred to as cold sores. The herpes simplex virus causes fluid-filled blisters that last from 1 week to 1 month, eventually drying and scabbing over.
  • Shortly after infection, most people experience a stinging, itching or tingling feeling in the area (near their mouth or genitals) where blisters will shortly develop. Early symptoms may also include a fever, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, muscle aches and headaches. Small, often painful blisters appear within a few days. After the blisters break, the skin underneath is typically very sensitive and sore.

Symptoms: The first outbreak, which usually occurs from a few days to a few weeks after initial infection, is typically the most severe. The symptoms tend to be less disruptive in subsequent outbreaks.

Herpes Treatment

  • Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral drug for you to take during the first outbreak, and may advise you to take antivirals whenever you feel that another outbreak is coming on.
  • If you have frequent outbreaks, your doctor may recommend that you take an antiviral drug daily.
  • Lukewarm baths (for genital herpes, you might want to purchase a sitz bath – a plastic basin that fits over your toilet seat – which can be more convenient than filling the tub every time you want a soak), compresses, an ice pack applied to the blisters, a blow dryer set on cool, and over-the-counter analgesics or astringents may help ease discomfort. Ask your doctor for recommendations on how to best reduce the itching and irritation.

Get Medical Help If:

  • You suspect you have contracted herpes
  • You cannot manage the pain or itching with over-the-counter remedies
  • You see signs of an infection such as swelling, a high fever, and pus or other discharge.
  • The rash does not show any signs of improvement after 10 days

Is it contagious? Yes. Herpes is transmitted by contact with the infectious particles that are present in the fluid-filled blisters, and can be present in other body fluids. The virus may be transmittable even if there are no visible blisters.

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Sources:

MedlinePlus, the National Institutes of Health’s Web site
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000858.htm

Shinglesinfo.com (stats on chickenpox and shingles, contagious facts, symptoms)
http://www.shinglesinfo.com/shinglesinfo/shingles-risk.jsp

http://kidshealth.org/parent/infections/skin/chicken_pox.html

http://www.cdc.gov/shingles/hcp/clinical-overview.html

webMD
http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/shingles/understanding-shingles-symptoms

http://pathmicro.med.sc.edu/virol/herpes.htm

http://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/human-herpes-viruses

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/herpessimplex.html