Shingles is a type of viral infection that can occur in individuals who had chickenpox as children. The virus causes a painful rash that usually spreads across a small portion of one side of the body. At first, the skin might be red and painful to the touch. Then patients might develop extremely painful blisters that can break and increase their infection risk. After individuals have chickenpox, the virus becomes dormant and hibernates in the tissue surrounding their spinal cord and brain. If it activates again and travels along their nerves to their skin, it develops as shingles. It's impossible to contract shingles without having been exposed to the virus. Some estimates believe up to one-third of the population of the United States will develop shingles in their adulthood.
Shingles can't be cured, but antiviral medication can be used to treat the outbreaks and help to speed the healing time. Some antiviral medication might also help reduce a patient's risk of developing complications, especially if they have underlying medical conditions shingles might aggravate. Antiviral therapies for shingles must be prescribed by a doctor. Patients need to see a doctor as soon as they first notice the symptoms. The two most common types of antiviral medication prescribed are acyclovir and valacyclovir. In addition to treating shingles, acyclovir is sometimes prescribed to treat cold sores, chickenpox, and outbreaks of genital herpes. Since the shingles virus already lives in the patient's body, the antiviral medication might be prescribed to help reduce the chances and severity of future outbreaks. Acyclovir helps to speed the healing of sores from shingles and other diseases. Valacyclovir is an antiviral drug used to treat the same viruses acyclovir does. It helps sores heal faster and helps reduce the severity of future outbreaks.