July 6, 2017 12:43 pm Published by

By: Amanda Comer, FNP-BC, ACNP-BC

According to the CDC, 1 out of every 3 people in the United States will develop shingles. Shingles, or herpes zoster, is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After an episode of chickenpox, the virus resides in cells of the nervous system lying quietly for possibly decades.  For reasons that are not fully understood, the virus can reactivate years later, causing painful blisters known as shingles.  “Shingles” comes from Latin word, “cingulum,” which means belt or girdle; the rash of herpes zoster usually appears in a band line or belt-like pattern.    

There are an estimated 1 million cases of shingles each year in the US, according to the CDC. Anyone who has had chickenpox in the past may develop shingles; even children.  However, the risk of shingles increases as you get older. Also when a person’s immune system is low, they are at increased risk of developing shingles.  For example, those who have leukemia, lymphoma or persons receiving immunosuppressive drugs, such as steroids are at higher risk for developing shingles. 

Shingles is a painful blister type rash that typically develops on one side of the body. Symptoms usually begin with an unusual sensation such as itching, burning, or tingling in the area before the rash even appears.  The rash forms blisters that crust over in 7 to 10 days and clears within 2 to 4 weeks.  Other symptoms of shingles can include fever, headache, chills, upset stomach and a generalized feeling of being unwell.  The trunk, (chest, upper/lower back) is the most common site affected by herpes zoster.  Scarring or skin color changes may persist long after a shingles episode. 

The virus that causes shingles, varicella zoster, can spread from a person with active shingles to another person who has never had chickenpox. So the person exposed to shingles may develop chickenpox, but they would not develop shingles. The varicella virus is spread through direct contact with fluid from the rash blisters caused by shingles.  A person with active shingles can spread the virus while the rash is in the blister stage. A person is not infectious before the blisters appear. Once the rash has developed and crusts, the person is no longer contagious.

If you develop shingles keep the rash covered and avoid touching or scratching the area.  Those with active shingles should avoid pregnant women who have never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine, infants and people with weakened immune systems.    

Several antiviral medications are available for treatment of shingles. These medicines will help lessen the duration and severity of the rash. They must be started as soon as possible after the rash appears to be most effective. People who have or think they may have shingles should call their healthcare provider as soon as possible to begin treatment. Wet compresses, calamine lotion, oatmeal baths and pain medications help relieve the pain and itching associated with shingles. 

The most common complication of shingles is post-herpetic neuralgia. Post-herpetic neuralgia is severe pain in the areas where the shingles rash developed, even after the rash clears up.  This usually resolves but the pain can be debilitating lasting weeks, months or even years. 

The CDC indicates, “half of persons living until age 85 years will develop shingles.”  The shingles vaccine is the only way to reduce the risk of developing herpes zoster, and it is recommended that people 60 years and older get one dose of the shingles vaccine.  Even those who have had shingles may receive the vaccine to help prevent reoccurrences of the disease. 

If you think you have shingles, or would like to receive the shingles vaccine, the staff at Express Care is available to meet your needs 7 days a week, with no appointment necessary.  Express Care is located at 703 Alcorn Drive, Suite 109, directly behind Magnolia Regional Health Center.               

This post was written by Magnolia Regional Health Center

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