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Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After an attack of chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in the nerve tissue. As we get older, it is possible for the virus to reappear in the form of shingles. Shingles is estimated to affect 2 in every 10 persons in their lifetime. This year, more than 500,000 people will develop shingles. Fortunately, there is currently research being done to find a vaccine to prevent the disease.

What is shingles?

Shingles is an outbreak of a rash or blisters on the skin that may be associated with severe pain. The pain is generally on one side of the body or face.

Who is at risk for developing shingles?

Although it is most common in people over age 50, anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk for developing shingles. Shingles is also more common in people with weakened immune systems from HIV infection, chemotherapy or radiation treatment, transplant operations and stress.

What are the symptoms of shingles?

Early signs of shingles include burning or shooting pain and tingling or itching generally located on one side of the body or face. The rash or blisters are present anywhere from one to 14 days.

Are other complications associated with shingles?

Yes. If shingles appears on the face, it can lead to complications in hearing and vision. For instance, if shingles affects the eye, the cornea can become infected and lead to temporary or permanent blindness. Another complication of the virus is postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), a condition where the pain from shingles persists for months, sometimes years, after the shingles rash has healed.

Is any research being done to prevent shingles?

There is a national, multicenter study under way of an experimental vaccine to prevent shingles, called the Shingles Prevention Study. The Shingles Prevention Study is a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) cooperative study representing a scientific collaboration among the VA, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Merck & Co., Inc., the vaccine's producer. Results will be available after the study is completed at the end of 2003.


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National Institutes of Health

Nutritional and Herbal Therapy for Shingles

There are a few Chinese herbal patent formulas that can help treat shingles and relieve symptoms.

  • Long Dan Xie Gan Wan is usually taken in combination with the formula above for the treatment of shingles.
  • Chuan Xin Lian Antiphlogistic Tablets is an effective antiviral.
  • You can apply Superior Sore Throat Powder topically to your skin. Mix it with a little water to make a paste.

It is also important to avoid foods that cause inflammation in the body and depress the immune system. Avoid saturated fats, refined foods, sugars, and juice.

  • Include an antioxidant supplement with a multi-vitamin.
  • Zinc (30-50 mg a day) and selenium increase immunity
  • B-complex (50-100 mg a day), plus extra B12 for pain.
  • Try rubbing St. John's Wort oil on the lesions for pain relief.


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