Difference Between Shingles (Herpes Zoster) & Oral-Genital Herpes

The general public tends to get confused between the herpes zoster (shingles) and herpes simplex (oral or genital herpes) and often use them interchangeably. We believe that there are some valid reasons for this confusion because both of these diseases are pretty widespread and to the untrained eye, the symptoms may look pretty similar as well! On top of that, the relevant information that could educate ordinary folks regarding these diseases is pretty sparse, to say the least.

Is Shingles a Form of Herpes?

The short answer would be yes, however we need to elucidate this further. There are eight types of Herpes Human Virus (HHV) all of which has an effect on humans. A brief round-up of all the different variants are as follows:

  • HHV1: Also known as Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV -1) and it causes oral herpes also known as cold sores.
  • HHV2: Also known as Herpes Simplex Virus 2 (HSV – 2) and it causes genital herpes.
  • HHV3: Also known as Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV) and it causes chickenpox when people are infected with it for the first time. The symptoms can recur as shingles later on in life!
  • HHV4: Also known as Ebstein Barr Virus (EBV) and it causes mononucleosis in humans. In popular jargon this disease is also known as glandular fever or simply as mono.
  • HHV5: Also known as Cytomegolo Virus (CMV) and it effect 5 out of every 1000 live births. Children infected with this virus initially show symptoms that are very similar to rubella.
  • HHV6: Also known as Roseolovirus because it causes Roseola Infantum, which is essentially a high fever accompanied by a rash.
  • HHV7: This is very similar to HHV6, however the infections caused by this virus is usually not as severe as that caused by HHV6.
  • HHV8: Also known as Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV), which is a form of cancer that people suffering from AIDS are especially susceptible to.

As mentioned above HHV has eight different variants, all of which have multiple sub-variants, a full discussion of which is beyond the scope of this article. So calling shingles a form of herpes would be technically correct, and you may even stretch the definition to say that shingles and herpes are related, however the truth of this claim is only limited to the taxonomy. The symptoms of herpes zoster are different from those of cold sores or genital herpes, the key differences of which can be deciphered if we compare them side by side.

Difference Between Shingles and Oral or Genital Herpes:

Shingles (Herpes Zoster)Herpes Simplex Virus
This is caused by the contraction of the VZV virus. This is caused by the contraction of the HSV-1 or HSV -2 virus.
Initial contraction will cause the patient to suffer from chickenpox. Once the person recovers from it, the virus stays dormant and later recurs in the form of shingles.The initial contraction and the recurrence will cause the patient to suffer from the same disease, which is oral or genital herpes.
Dormant VZV is activated by the reduced capacity of the immune system. It could be caused by advanced age (a phenomena known as immunosenescence), contracting a disease that reduces the overall immunity of the body (such as aids) or certain prescription drugs (such as corticosteroids).Dormant HSV -1 or HSV – 2 virus is usually activated by a myriad of factors such as an injury to the afflicted area, pregnancy, stress, fatigue or even by sustained exposure to sunlight!
Chickenpox is characterized by rashes all over the body, which soon transforms into blisters. These blisters are itchy and becomes painful if ruptured.

Shingles, which occurs later on in life re characterized by blisters, which can be extremely painful, right from the outset. The blisters are usually focused on one concentrated area of the body, typically in the upper facial region, chest or the abdominal area.
Oral herpes caused by HSV -1 usually manifests in the form of ‘cold sores’ in the corner of the mouth. However if someone receives oral sex from someone infected with HSV – 1, it can appear on the genitals as well.

Genital herpes caused by HSV – 2 appears as blisters on the external genitalia. If someone performs oral sex on a person suffering from genital herpes, then it may appear on the lips of the person who performed oral sex.

The interchangeability of the locales of cold sores and genital herpes causes many people to ask whether shingles can cause genital herpes or vice versa. As HSV virus and VZV virus causes different and unique set of systems for the sufferer, where one set of symptoms caused by one virus never mimics the other set of symptoms caused by the other virus, we can safely conclude that such concerns are completely unfounded.
The symptoms of chickenpox shows up on the person anytime between 7 to 21 days after being infected.

The symptoms of shingles can show up anytime in life after the user has recovered from chickenpox because the VZV virus stays dormant in people throughout their lives.
Either cold sores or genital herpes takes anywhere between 4 to 7 days for the symptoms to first appear and may be visible for up to 20 days.

The recurrent symptoms aren’t as severe and usually do not last as long!
Chickenpox is extremely contagious during the 7 to 21 day period, after which it is less so.

Shingles or herpes zoster is contagious, but not in the traditional sense. Coming into contact with a person suffering from shingles will not cause the other person to suffer from shingles right away, however, they will contract the VZV virus. If they are yet to suffer from chickenpox, they will start displaying symptoms within 7 days, which obviously opens up the chances of suffering from shingles later on in life.
Either oral or genital herpes is extremely contagious. People having an outbreak of oral or genital herpes should be extremely mindful of their personal hygiene and should not engage in sexual activity while they are displaying the symptoms.
Other symptoms of herpes zoster besides the rash are general malaise, which would include fatigue and weakness. Patients are known to develop a sensitivity to light as well! Oral or genital herpes is usually accompanied with a medium to high fever.
A bout of chickenpox lasts for up to three weeks and a bout of shingles or herpes zoster can last from anywhere between two to four weeks.When the person becomes infected with cold sores or genital herpes for the first time, the symptoms can last for up to 20 days. When they recur, they usually last for about 10 days.

Statistical Differences between Shingles and Herpes:

Shingles (Herpes Zoster)Herpes Simplex
About 4 million Americans, primarily children suffer from chickenpox every year.

About 20% of Americans will display the symptoms of shingles at least once during their lifetime.
More than 20% of Americans are currently infected with HSV -2.
People over 64 are seven to ten times more likely to suffer from herpes zoster compared to people who are younger than 10 years old. Also women are more vulnerable to shingles than men and African-Americans tend to contract it more than Caucasians.Women are more prone to suffering from genital herpes than men (about 25% of American women are infected with it, compared to just 20% of American men) because women tend to contract the infection more easily from an infected male, compared to the other way around.
There hasn’t been any significant change in the odds of people suffering from shingles over the past few decades.American adults between the age of 20 and 30 are twice as likely to suffer from genital herpes as they were 20 years ago.
Over 2 million Americans visit the doctor’s office every year to get treated for shingles or associated complications.About 20 to 30% of people suffering from genital herpes are able to summon the courage to visit the doctor’s office to seek medical help.

Treatment for Shingles and Oral or Genital herpes:

People can at times be forgiven for thinking that shingles and herpes are the same if they have ever seen the prescription or the recovery methods, because they are almost carbon copies of each other. Some of the key aspects of the shingles  and herpes treatment are:

  • Taking vitamin supplements that has a significant amount of Vitamin C and Zinc provides a necessary boost to our natural immunity and prevents the onset of herpes zoster or a recurrence of herpes simplex.
  • People are usually suggested to try “over the counter” medication like ibuprofen or paracetamol to help ease the pain. Topical application of Vaseline or a similar petroleum jelly or even Aloe Vera is also highly recommended. However herpes zoster tends to be a lot more painful than herpes simplex, hence some advanced pain medication for people suffering from shingles may be required. To help ease the pain, an application of lidocaine may be prescribed. In extreme cases, prescription of opiates such as Hydrocodone (Brand Name: Vicodin) and Oxycodone (Brand Names: Oxycontin, Percocet, Percodan) is not unheard of!
  • A warm bath provides patients of shingles, cold sores or genital herpes with temporary relief.
  • For both herpes zoster and herpes simplex, strong anti-viral medication is prescribed. Some example are Famciclovir (Brand Name: Famvir), Valacyclovir (Brand Name: Valtrex) and Acyclovir (Brand Name: Zovirax).
  • If the blisters or lesions get ruptured, then it leaves the patients of both shingles and herpes vulnerable to secondary infection. To counter that, flucloxacillin or erythromycin may also be prescribed.

Prevention is the best form of cure hence building up and maintaining a healthy immune system, maintaining proper hygiene and refraining from risky sexual behavior can go a long way towards preventing an outbreak!