Shingles is a painful, blistering rash caused by the same virus as chicken pox. The virus can remain dormant in the body for years, so anyone who has had chicken pox is at risk. Although it is rare, shingles can occur on the feet and may have serious complications.
Who's at Risk?
Shingles is caused by the same virus as chicken pox. Once you’ve had chicken pox, the virus can remain dormant in your system. Shingles occurs when the virus becomes active again. According to the ShinglesInfo Fact Sheet, 98 percent of people in the United States have had chicken pox, and about 1 million people a year develop shingles. The disease usually occurs in older adults, and more than half of the cases every year are in people over 60. People with weakened immune systems due to illness or the effects of medication, are also at greater risk for contracting shingles.
Shingles occurs most commonly around the upper torso, but as it tends to follow nerves, it can also occur in the feet. The outbreak usually begins with a tingling, itching or burning sensation in the feet and is followed within a couple of days by a painful blistering rash. The blisters may break open and crust over and can sometimes become infected. The rash is often accompanied by flu-like symptoms, such as headache, fever, chills,and fatigue. In most people the symptoms will last two to three weeks, but in severe case they can last several months and even be recurring.
Like chicken pox, the virus that causes shingles is infectious and can be passed along to someone who has not had chicken pox. The person will develop chicken pox rather than shingles. For this reason it is important to stay away from people who are most at risk of infection. This includes young children, pregnant women, newborns and people with weak immune systems.
Shingles symptoms will generally disappear on their own in a matter of a few weeks, but some people may need to be treated for associated pain. You should see a doctor immediately if you suspect shingles. Some doctors will prescribe an antiviral medication, such as Acyclovir, Famciclovir or Valacyclovir, to help fight the virus, and anti-inflammatory medicines to reduce swelling and pain. If taken within 24 hours of symptoms starting, and preferably before the blisters appear, antiviral medications can reduce symptoms faster and reduce the risk of complications. In addition, antihistamines may reduce itching, and a cool, wet compress and calamine lotion can help to ease itching and pain.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the shingles vaccine is recommended for people over 60. Although it is not guaranteed to prevent the virus from reactivating, it may reduce the severity of symptoms and make for a speedier recovery. People under 60 who have not had chicken pox should receive the chicken pox vaccination.
Severe cases of shingles can result in long-term nerve pain, vision loss and muscle weakness, but the most likely complication of shingles on the feet is bacterial infection. Bacterial infection occurs when the blisters are broken and become infected. Avoid wearing shoes and socks that could irritate blisters and cause skin breaks. Try to stay off your feet and keep them clean and dry to prevent infection.