herpes zoster, infection of a ganglion (nerve center) with severe pain and a blisterlike eruption in the area of the nerve distribution, a condition called shingles. The causative organism is varicella-zoster, a common, filtrable virus that also causes chickenpox, and can hide in the nerves after a chickenpox infection has passed. Herpes zoster is most common in persons over the age of 50. It most often involves the area of the upper abdomen and lower chest, but may appear along other nerve pathways including that leading to the eye; serious ocular complications can lead to blindness. The disease can be treated with antivirals, and aspirin and other analgesics are used to relieve pain. Vaccination is recommended for individuals 50 years or older. Although the disease is generally nonrecurrent, it can permanently damage nerves and lead to postherpetic neuralgia, whose often severe, persistent pain is more difficult to control.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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