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Herpes Zoster (Shingles)

What is herpes zoster? 

Herpes zoster (shingles) is caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person has had chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in the nerves, and in some people, becomes reactivated at some point in their lives, resulting in an outbreak of herpes zoster. People who received the chickenpox vaccine also have a small risk of herpes zoster. Herpes zoster is more common in people with a depressed immune system, and in people older than age 50. The virus usually results in a painful rash or small blisters on a strip of skin anywhere on the body. On some occasions, even after the rash is gone, the pain may continue for a prolonged period of time.

The incidence of herpes zoster occurring in children is low, but the risk of acquiring this disease increases with age. Children who have weakened immune systems may experience the same, or more severe, symptoms as adults. Children most at risk for herpes zoster are those who had chickenpox during the first year of life or whose mothers had chickenpox very late during pregnancy. 

What are the symptoms of herpes zoster?

Herpes zoster most often occurs on the trunk and buttocks. However, it may appear on the arms, legs, or face. The following are the most common symptoms of herpes zoster. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Skin hypersensitivity and pain in the area where the herpes zoster appears

  • Mild rash, which appears after five days and first looks like small, red spots that turn into blisters

  • Blisters which turn yellow and dry

  • Rash which usually goes away in two to four weeks

  • Rash is usually localized to one side of the body

The symptoms of herpes zoster may resemble other skin conditions. Always consult your child's doctor for a diagnosis.

How is herpes zoster diagnosed?

Diagnosis usually involves obtaining a medical history of your child and performing a physical examination. Diagnosis may also include:

  • Skin scrapings. Gently scraping the blisters to determine if the virus is shingles or another virus.

  • Blood tests

What is the treatment for herpes zoster?

Specific treatment for herpes zoster will be determined by your child's doctor based on:

  • Your child's age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the condition

  • Your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the condition

  • Your opinion or preference

Medication may help alleviate some of the pain, but the disease has to run its course. Immediate treatment with antiviral drugs may help lessen some of the symptoms. Use of medication will be determined by your child's doctor based on the age of the child and the severity of the symptoms.

Online Resources

CDC  http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/vis/downloads/vis-shingles.pdf
CDC  http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/shingles/dis-faqs.htm
National Foundation for Infectious Diseases  http://www.nfid.org/pdf/factsheets/varicellaadult.pdf
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke  http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/shingles/shingles.htm
NIH Medline Plus  http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/shingles.html
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases  http://www3.niaid.nih.gov/topics/shingles/

© 2000-2011 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.