Shingles is a viral infection that can cause painful blistering rashes on any part of the body, including the genital area. It occurs when the varicella-zoster virus (VZV) reactivates in people who have had chickenpox in the past.
After a person recovers from chickenpox, the VZV remains dormant in the dorsal root ganglion, which is a collection of nerve bodies that deliver sensory information from the skin to the spinal cord. People can divide the surface of the skin into dermatomes, which are areas where the sensory nerves come from a single nerve root. Once reactivated, the VZV can cause painful rashes to appear on dermatomes supplied by the affected nerve root.
In this article, we will discuss whether a person can get shingles on their penis and what other conditions may have a similar appearance.
People can develop shingles on any part of the body, including the genitals. Those with shingles
Sacral lesions are lesions in the area of skin where the sensory nerves come from the base of the spine, or sacrum. They are rare, occurring only in 5% of shingles cases, but there are a few reported cases of penile herpes zoster.
Reported cases of penile herpes zoster typically involve S2–S4 dermatomes. These include the skin on the scrotum, buttocks, back of the legs, and genital area.
A person may also develop other symptoms, such as:
A person can also develop bladder and bowel dysfunction and urinary retention from shingles. One
Doctors usually prescribe antiviral medications such as acyclovir within 72 hours after the rashes appear to help prevent the virus from multiplying. Taking antivirals can help to both reduce the length of time a person has shingles and prevent complications such as postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).
A person can also take over-the-counter or prescription medications to address pain and discomfort. Doctors may prescribe anticonvulsants and antidepressants to manage severe pain in people with neuralgia.
- colloidal oatmeal baths
- calamine lotion
- wet compresses
A person cannot be infected with shingles. But people with shingles can spread the VZV virus and cause chickenpox in people who have not received the chickenpox vaccine. The only way to prevent having shingles is through receiving Shingrix, the vaccine for shingles. All healthy adults who are ages 50 years and over can get the vaccine.
- currently have shingles
- have had an allergic reaction after a previous dose of Shingrix
- have not had the chickenpox virus (meaning they have no immunity to VZV)
- are pregnant
- are breastfeeding
Genital herpes zoster may be challenging to differentiate from other genital lesions due to its varied presentation and possible co-infections. A person with genital lesions may instead have one of the following conditions:
- Syphilis: Syphilis is a kind of sexually transmitted infection (STI) that causes genital sores. These sores are usually round, firm, and painless.
- Herpes simplex 2: Genital herpes is another STI that people may mistake for shingles, because it can also cause open sores and blisters on the anus and genitals.
- Chancroid: Chancroid is an STI that can cause chancroids in the genital area that become painful, ulcerated sores.
- Behçet’s syndrome: Behçet’s syndrome is a rare type of vasculitis that leads to a multisystem inflammatory disorder. It causes oval sores that occur on the mouth and genitals. The condition comes with other skin lesions and eye abnormalities such as uveitis.
- Fixed drug eruption (FDE): FDE is an allergic skin reaction that results in round, localized patches after taking certain drugs.
- Genital psoriasis: Genital psoriasis causes thick, scaly patches to appear in the genital area.
Doctors recommend early treatment for shingles to help prevent complications. Those who suspect they may have shingles should contact a doctor as soon as rashes appear, since antivirals work best within 72 hours after the rashes appear.
While complications can happen to anyone, older adults and immunocompromised individuals are at greater risk for developing complications such as PHN. People who experience the following should immediately contact their doctor:
- spreading of blisters to other areas of the body
- fever and chills
- extreme discomfort or pain
Shingles is a viral infection that is relatively common in older or immunocompromised individuals. It results in a painful, blistering rash. A person can get shingles on the genital area, but this is uncommon. Aside from blisters, genital shingles may also cause bladder and bowel problems.
While shingles can cause genital lesions, other conditions, such as syphilis and genital herpes, can also have a similar presentation. It is advisable for people to contact their doctor to determine the cause of the lesions and get prompt treatment.