Shingles is a type of disease that is related to the chicken pox virus. This disease is caused by the herpes zoster virus and is known for causing belt-shaped rashes. Once someone gets the chicken pox, there body has the herpes zoster virus in their system. It lays dormant within the nerve cells and can reactivate years or decades later. Once you develop shingles, one of your first concerns may be how long it lasts and how long the healing process will take.
How Long Does Shingles Last?
Everyone’s body chemistry, immune system and general health is different, so the duration of the virus depends on a wide variety of factors. Before the virus even begins, you may notice a burning pain and increased sensitivity for several days or a week. From this point, shingles will begin to take hold. Small blisters with a red base will form over the next three to five days. Normally, these blisters will develop along the nerves that flow from the stem of the spinal cord in a ray-like pattern. This pattern is known as a dermatomal pattern and generally creates a band-like formation along the skin.
Once shingles has developed, the blisters continue to form along the entire nerve pathway. Depending on your personal experience the entire band or just a part of it will be covered. Sometimes, only one nerve is affected. In rare instance, multiple nerves may be affected. Once the blisters have developed, they may pop, ooze and form a crust before they begin to heal. Overall, the average outbreak lasts for three to four weeks. There may be severe pain present, but blisters may not develop in every situation, so you may not be aware of the cause of your pain. Depending on your age and health, the duration of the shingles outbreak and the contagiousness of it may vary.
How Long Will the Virus Be Contagious?
Obviously, you do not want to spread shingles to your loved ones and friends. Once you have the virus, you can spread it to anyone who has not had the chicken pox or who has not been vaccinated for the disease. Individuals who have never had the chicken pox will develop chicken pox instead of shingles if they contract the virus from you. If they have already had the chicken pox, they cannot contract shingles from you—although it is possible for them to develop shingles from the chicken pox virus that is stored in their body. If you or someone else has had chicken pox or shingles in the past, you are more likely to have a shingles outbreak in the future.
The virus is only contagious to people who have never had chicken pox because anyone with a history of chicken pox already has the virus stored in their body. This disease is at its most contagious when blisters are forming or healing. When the blisters have completely crusted over and started to heal, you will no longer be contagious.
Can a Vaccine Prevent the Shingles Virus From Happening?
Starting in May of 2006, the Food and Drug Administration approved of Zostavax to prevent shingles outbreaks. This vaccine is ideally given to individuals over the age of 50 or 60 who have already had chicken pox in the past. It only takes a single injection to administer because it is essentially a booster dose of the chicken pox vaccine. According to studies of this vaccine, the risk of getting a shingles outbreak in the next four years was drastically reduced. Among individuals who still contracted the virus, blisters were reduced by two-thirds and symptom severity dropped by 60 percent.
Home Remedies for Treating Shingles
During an outbreak, bathing with soap and water helps to clean the blisters. You can also use calamine lotion to reduce the itching or discomfort that comes with the virus. To limit symptoms, antihistamines like Benadryl and pain medications can be effective. Petroleum jelly or aluminum acetate can prevent the blisters from oozing and help them dry up faster. You should avoid any skin-to-skin contact with people who have never had chicken pox to prevent the virus from spreading. You may also want to wear loose clothing to prevent your clothes from rubbing against the rash.
Medication Options for Shingles
When you have contracted the shingles virus, your doctor may prescribe a variety of different medications. Anti-inflammatory drugs can help reduce the inflammation and pain caused by shingles. Meanwhile, over-the-counter pain medication and narcotic may help to reduce the discomfort. To limit the intensity and duration of the virus, a doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs like famciclovier, valacyclovir and acyclovier to treat shingles in the first 72 hours.
If you develop postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), your doctor may give you oxycodone or morphine to manage the pain. Topical corticosteroids may be prescribed to limit the inflammation and pain, but they should only be used according to your doctor’s instructions.
Although the shingles virus can be prevented through the vaccine, you should not take the vaccine if you are pregnant or nursing. If you have HIV, cancer, an organ transplant or another condition that suppresses your immune system, you should avoid getting the vaccine since it is made of a weakened, live form of the virus. In addition, women who plan on becoming pregnant should wait at least three months after a shingles outbreak to try to become pregnant.