Shingles doesn’t just affect older people, doctors warn. This was recently shown by pop star Justin Bieber, who made his diagnosis and its health consequences public in the spring. What warning signs you must not ignore.
It is well known that many older people are affected by shingles. For this reason, the Standing Vaccination Commission advises everyone over the age of 60 to be vaccinated. But the disease is also spreading among young people. For example, Canadian pop star Justin Bieber made his diagnosis public in June. The 28-year-old suffers from Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, a disease caused by the shingles pathogen herpes zoster. Shingles occurs on the facial nerve and causes paralysis on one side of the face.
Typically, the risk of shingles disease increases with age. “Although we’ve been seeing younger patients between the ages of 20 and 40 more and more recently,” emphasized dermatologist Alexander Kreuter from the Helios clinics in Duisburg and Oberhausen in an interview with “Welt”. And “RTL” said Mario Fabri from Infectious Dermatology at the University Hospital of Cologne: “We see a whole range of young people for whom there is actually no reason and who still get severe zoster.” This development could also be confirmed by international data prove well.
An outbreak in younger people often occurs when the immune system has been weakened for a while. This can happen after a severe infection, for example. Corona can therefore also increase the risk of illness. Chickenpox viruses dormant in the body would then be activated again and lead to shingles. As the dermatologist emphasizes, however, excessive sunbathing and severe physical and mental stress could also trigger the disease.
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Herpes zoster has two stages of the disease, an acute and a prodromal stage, i.e. an early stage: in the acute stage, the rash typical of herpes zoster occurs. The reactivated viruses reach the surface of the skin along the nerve fibers, form red blisters that itch and burn, fill with fluid, mature, then burst open, become crusted and then heal.
The rash is – unlike the widespread chickenpox, which spread over the entire body – mostly limited to a limited region. This is the area of skin (dermatome) that is supplied by the affected nerve fibers. Depending on where the rash occurs, the dermatome can be used to determine which nerve and nerve node is involved.
When the rash appears, it’s high time for treatment. The special antiviral medication must then be taken within the first 72 hours, otherwise it will no longer work optimally. Otherwise there is a risk of complications and secondary diseases, especially post-herpetic neuralgia. This is sometimes severe pain that can torment the affected skin region and nerve fibers for months or years.
Therefore, pay attention to symptoms that appear in the early stages, i.e. before the rash, and if in doubt talk to your doctor about it.
Up to about a week before the blisters appear, the following are possible:
Two to three days before the blisters form:
The signs of touch sensitivity and then the rash are always unilateral. It is typical of shingles that nerves are only affected on one side of the body. The pain and rash therefore run from the back sideways to the abdomen, like a belt, hence the name shingles. Starting from the back, the nerve fibers always run in one half of the body and, to put it simply, do not grow all around. So the complaints never go beyond the central axis of the body. This is the sternum in front and the spine in back.
Usually one breast or the upper abdominal area is affected on one side, sometimes the back as well. However, the streaky rash can also appear on an arm or leg, or on one side of the head.
It can take up to four weeks from the early symptoms to the healing of the blisters. However, the first signs of this reinfection are not known to many. Above all, the inexplicable pain and the unpleasant sensory disturbances in a limited part of the body on one side should be a warning sign. This is especially true for people over 50 who have had chickenpox in the past and have not been vaccinated against herpes zoster.
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