Mini Medical School: All About the Shingles Virus

March 1, 2023

Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful skin rash with blisters in a localized area, and it affects 1.2 million people a year in the United States.

Dr. Jane Weida, professor and chair of the Department of Family, Internal, and Rural Medicine at the College of Community Health Sciences and a family medicine physician at University Medical Center, said Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox

“Shingles are typically on the left or right side of the body or face,” she said during a Mini Medical School presentation in February. “It may cause fever, headaches or fatigue and often leaves tingling or pain two to four days before the rash develops.”

Mini Medical School is a series of lectures provided to The University of Alabama OLLI program by faculty of CCHS. The College operates UMC.

Weida explained that even when people recover from chickenpox, the varicella zoster virus can remain dormant for years or even decades. Shingles are result of the reactivation of the virus, which then travels along the nerves to the skin producing blisters and pain.

“We do not know why the virus reactivates, but risk factors could be related to poor immune function, age and having contracted chicken pox before the age of 18 months,” said Weida.

Shingles can cause redness, swelling and pain in the face, facial paralysis, ear pain, dizziness and hearing loss.

Antiviral medications (Acyclovir, Famciclovir, Valacyclovir) are used to treat Shingles.

Weida recommended that people get the vaccine that prevents chickenpox to avoid getting Shingles later. She said chickenpox immunization information can be found on the websites of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Family Physicians.