Shingles and HIV: What You Should Know

Overview

The varicella-zoster virus is a type of herpes virus that causes chickenpox (varicella) and shingles (zoster). Anyone who contracts the virus will experience chickenpox, with shingles possibly occurring decades later. Only people who’ve had chickenpox can develop shingles.

The risk of getting shingles increases as we get older, especially after age 50. Part of the reason for this is that our immune system weakens with age.

The possibility of developing shingles greatly increases if HIV has affected a person’s immune system.

What are the symptoms of shingles?

The most obvious symptom of shingles is a rash that usually winds around one side of the back and chest.

Some people start to feel a tingling sensation or pain several days before the rash appears. It begins with a few red bumps. Over the course of three to five days, many more bumps form.

The bumps fill with fluid and turn into blisters, or lesions. The rash may sting, burn, or itch. It can become very painful.

After a few days, the blisters begin to dry out and form a crust. These scabs usually start to fall off in about a week. The whole process can take from two to four weeks. After the scabs fall off, subtle color changes may be visible on the skin. Sometimes the blisters leave scars.

Some people experience lingering pain after the rash clears up. This is a condition known as postherpetic neuralgia. It can last several months, though in rare cases the pain remains for years.

Other symptoms include fever, nausea, and diarrhea. Shingles can also occur around the eye, which can be quite painful and may result in eye damage.

For symptoms of shingles, see a healthcare provider right away. Prompt treatment can cut down on the risk of serious complications.