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What are Disseminated Shingles & How is it Transmitted? | Risk Factors, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment of Disseminated Shingles

What are Disseminated Shingles?

Shingle is a rash that leads to painful and itchy blistering on the skin. Disseminated shingles are the widespread form of shingles that covers most of the area of the body. Varicella zoster virus, the same that causes chickenpox is responsible for causing shingles.

According to an article published in 2019, shingles occur in one or two dermatomes on the face and chest area and do not spread across the midline of the body. But, disseminated shingles are known to affect three or more dermatomes.(1, 2)

A dermatome is an area of the skin that is supplied by the spinal nerve. There are 31 pairs of different spinal nerves and each dermatome in the body corresponds to a pair of the spinal nerves.(3)

Risk Factors for Disseminated Shingles

Anyone, who has had chickenpox in past is at risk of getting shingles. The virus can remain dormant in the nerve cells of the body even after recovery. It can get reactivated and cause shingles. The risk factors for virus reactivation can be a weak immune system and older age. According to the national institute of aging, 50% of shingles are known to occur in people of age 60 years and above, and the risk increases as they reach 70.(4)

Risk factors of a weakened immune system include:

  • Organ transplant surgery
  • HIV
  • Cancer and its treatments
  • Older age
  • Excessive sun exposure
  • Stress

Disseminated shingles are known to affect 2% of the general population and 15-20% of cases are of those with a compromised immune system.(1)

How are Shingles Transmitted?

The virus, causing shingles or the varicella-zoster virus can easily pass from a person who has suffered from chicken pox to another person. Once a person gets chicken pox the virus stays in a dormant state in the body. On getting reactivated it can cause shingles.

Also, a person with shingles can pass on the virus to a person who has never had chicken pox.

The virus can get transmitted via close contact or coming in direct contact with the blisters or also by breathing in virus particles from the blisters.

Also if a person gets in contact with a person with shingles, shingles will not occur but instead, he would suffer from chicken pox.(5)

Symptoms of Disseminated Shingles

Disseminated shingles would look similar to chicken pox and would be difficult to differentiate.(2)

The symptoms of disseminated shingles are as follows:

  • Headache
  • Painful and itchy rash
  • Sensitivity to bright light
  • Tingling, itching, and pain several days before the rash appears

Disseminated shingles may cover a larger area of the body and unlike shingles may cross the midline of the body.

Treatment for Disseminated Shingles

Antivirals may be required for the treatment of disseminated shingles. Those with a weakened immune system would need hospitalization.(1) Treatment in the hospital would include intravenous antiviral medications.

How Can Disseminated Shingles Be Prevented?

A recombinant dose of the zoster vaccine may be needed for the prevention of shingles and complications related to it.(2)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 doses of the Shingrix vaccine are able to protect against herpes zoster and postherpetic complications which include shingle with pain.

Complications of Disseminated Shingles

Disseminated shingles can lead to persistent pain that can remain for 90 days. This is also known as post-herpetic neuralgia.(2) It can also lead to plexopathy, a nerve disorder that causes weakness of limbs.

Other complications may affect the liver, lung, and brain and lead to pneumonitis and encephalitis.(3)

People with disseminated shingles should contact a doctor if they think they have a weakened immune system. Antiviral medications can be most effective when given as soon as the rash appears.

Disseminated shingles are a rare condition that can be managed by prompt symptom management. The outlook of the disease depends on the age of the person, status of the immune system, health condition, and severity of the symptom.

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 18, 2022

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