Shingles is caused by the Varicella Zoster Virus. Primary infection with the virus causes Chicken Pox, usually in children. After symptoms subside, the virus lies dormant in nerves, sometimes for decades. Shingles, or Herpes Zoster, occurs when the virus reactivates, typically brought on by stress or a weakened immune system. Shingles is most common in the elderly population, and one in three people in the United States will develop Shingles in their lifetime.
Shingles is a painful disease, with a painful rash presenting on the torso, and sometimes on the face and limbs. Symptoms typically subside within seven to ten days, but in some patients, shingles can cause other medical complications. One in five people over 50 will develop post-herpetic neuralgia, pain that remains after symptoms have resolved. In some cases, pain can remain for months or years; 15% of patients experience pain for years, causing significant burden to their quality of life.
The current frontline treatment is antivirals. Unfortunately, these drugs are only effective if given within three days of symptom onset, meaning many patients are left with only painkillers to treat the disease.