Margaret Barker, a 78-year-old retired headmistress attended the walk in centre. She complained of feeling unwell. She said she had a headache and felt ‘fluish’ and had been off colour for a few days. She said she had a small itchy rash on her abdomen. Mrs Barker had herpes zoster also known as shingles. This article explains how older people are increased risk of shingles and its complications. It will enable readers to recognise the clinical features of shingles, be aware of current treatments and how vaccination can protect older people from this distressing condition.
What is shingles?
Shingles is a painful blistering rash caused by reactivation of varicella zoster virus, the chickenpox virus. It is correctly known as herpes zoster.1
The term shingles is derived from the Latin word cingulum, which means belt or girdle. The term herpes zoster is derived from the Greek words herpein meaning to creep, and zoster meaning girdle or belt. Both Latin and Greek terms describe the way the rash creeps across a dermatome (an area of skin supplied by a single spinal nerve). The shingles virus causes the nerve cells on a spinal nerve to become inflamed.