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Shingles is a painful viral infection affecting the elderly and immune compromised. Although caused by the identical virus of chicken pox the two diseases are quite different. With shingles the sufferer may initally feel generally unwell and feverish with vague pain around their girth. Later the pain is more specific and is felt over the skin of the affected area. Over the next couple of days the pain worsens and a red rash appears which 'creeps' over the body forming a belt like appearance.

As the shingles disease progresses vesicles (fluid filled swellings) form over the affected area, which then later crust. Eventually the rash will clear and the skin will return to normal although some minor scarring is not uncommon. Areas commonly affected by the shingles virus are the chest, lower abdomen and limbs and less commonly the neck and face.

Occasionally the pain may persist for weeks or months after the attack has subsided in a condition known as post-herpetic neuralgia. If the face was affected during the shingles attack, the eye may become inflamed due to the neuralgia and in very rare instances may lead to blindness.

Treatment includes analgesia for the pain and ointments for the skin. Antiviral drugs can also be used to shorten the duration of the shingles attack, as well as potentially preventing the onset of post-herpetic neuralgia.

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