Shingles and you

Shingles is a painful skin rash that is usually localized on a small area of skin. It is caused by same virus that causes chicken pox called varicella zoster virus. This virus is different from herpes simplex virus that causes painful cold sores on the mouth/lips and genitalia. Shingles can affect all age groups but is more common in those older than 50 years. Lifetime risk of getting shingles is 30 percent; meaning that one in every three Canadians could get shingles. The prevalence of shingles in Canada is rising; a study done in 2012 found that the rate of shingles in British Columbia has increased from 3.2 cases per 1,000 people in 1997 to 4.5 in 2012.

  • Mar. 11, 2020 12:00 a.m.
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Shingles is a painful skin rash that is usually localized on a small area of skin. It is caused by same virus that causes chicken pox called varicella zoster virus. This virus is different from herpes simplex virus that causes painful cold sores on the mouth/lips and genitalia. Shingles can affect all age groups but is more common in those older than 50 years. Lifetime risk of getting shingles is 30 percent; meaning that one in every three Canadians could get shingles. The prevalence of shingles in Canada is rising; a study done in 2012 found that the rate of shingles in British Columbia has increased from 3.2 cases per 1,000 people in 1997 to 4.5 in 2012.

The first time one is infected with varicella zoster virus, one develops chicken pox. After this, the virus sometimes hides out/goes to sleep (dormant stage) in the host’s body. The virus can wake up (reactivation stage) sometimes in future, if the host’s health condition is favorable for that. For you to have shingles, must have had chicken pox in the past.

Initial symptoms of shingles could be a weird local skin sensation. One may feel burning, stinging sharp pain, itching or tingling sensation. Rash with red bumps that subsequently turns into blisters and sores appear 1-2 days later. The rash usually scab over in about 1-week time and clear off in 2-4 weeks. Other shingles symptoms may include fever, chills, headache, nausea, diarrhea. Trunk is commonest site for shingles and it always involve one side of body. About one in every 10 people that had shingles develops shingles complication called postherpetic neuralgia. People with postherpetic neuralgia develop long term shingles’ pain that may be so severe to cause sleeplessness, weight loss and others.

It is not possible for one to get shingles from somebody having shingles. However, it is very possible and easy for some group of people to get infected with the virus (not shingles itself) which then first causes chicken pox on these people. People that have had chicken pox, shingles and most people who had chicken pox vaccination can not get a new varicella zoster virus infection. People that have never had chicken pox or effective chicken pox vaccination can get varicella zoster virus from shingles’ patients, more especially pregnant women, children less than 12 months of age and those with weak immune system from diseases or medication. Making direct contact with unscabbed shingles’ rash is the commonest way of catching the virus. Among people who have had chicken pox in the past, those older than 50 years of age and those with weak immune system are the group more at risk of developing shingles. Immune system weakens with age making the age of 50 years and older a risk for shingles.

You can prevent shingles by first preventing chicken pox. Chicken pox can be prevented by getting chicken pox vaccine. If you have had chicken pox, you can still reduce significantly your risk of getting shingles by getting shingles vaccine. Most people older than 50 years of age including those who have had shingles in the past may be eligible for shingles vaccine. Pregnant women, people with weak immune system and those with allergy to content of shingles vaccine are usually not eligible for shingles vaccination.

Shingles can be treated with antiviral medication. This medication is more effective if taken less than there days from onset of the rash. In addition to the antiviral medication, other medications can be used to control the symptoms and risk of developing postherpetic neuralgia. Placing cool compresses soaked in water mixed with white vinegar on the blisters and sores can contribute to pain relief. Shingles on face can involve the eye; this requires immediate treatment as it could damage the eyes. Is recommended that you contact your doctor to get more information about shingles.

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