Herpes zoster, or more commonly known as “Shingles” affects almost 1 in every 3 people in the United States in their lifetime. Anyone who has ever recovered from the chickenpox may develop shingles, even children. However, the risk of shingles increases with age. Almost half of cases are seen in individuals 60 years and older. Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from VZV the virus stays inactive or dormant in the body and the virus can reactivate years later.
Symptoms of shingles include a very painful rash that develops on one side of the face or body. The rash forms blisters which may burst, and scab over in 7-10 days and clears up within 4 weeks. Before the rash develops you may have pain, itching, burning, or tingling to the area. This can happen anywhere between 1-5 days prior to the rash occurring. Most commonly, the rash occurs in a stripe pattern on one side of the body. It can also cause fever, headaches, chills, upset stomach, and fatigue.
Shingles cannot be passed on from one person to another. HOWEVER – the virus that causes shingles, VZV, can spread to another person with active shingles who has never had chickenpox. In this case, the person may develop chickenpox, but not shingles. The virus is spread through direct contact with fluid from the blisters. A person with active shingles can spread the virus when the rash is in the blister-phase. A person is not infectious before the blisters appear and once the rash has developed crusts. Shingles is less contagious than chickenpox and the risk of a person with shingles spreading the virus is low if the rash is covered.
- Avoid touching or scratching the rash
- Wash your hands often to prevent the spread of VZV
- Until the rash has developed crusts, avoid contact with those who:
- Are pregnant who have never had chickenpox or the vaccine,
- Premature or low birth weight infants,
- Have weakened immune systems (chemotherapy, immunosuppressant medications, HIV)
Treatment for shingles includes antiviral medications, which shorten the length and severity of the illness. Medication must be started as soon as possible after the rash appears. If you, or someone you know thinks they have shingles, contact our office for an evaluation appointment as soon as possible.
You can reduce your risk for developing shingles and long term pain from shingles by vaccination. The Center for Disease Control recommends that individuals age 60 and over get one dose of the shingles vaccination. If you, or someone you know is interested in the shingles vaccination contact our office at 512-336-2777 to schedule a wellness visit so we can discuss the vaccine, along with other vaccinations and screening measures for your age. Here is more information on the vaccination. (http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/adults/downloads/fs-shingles.pdf)
Center for Disease Control. Shingles (Herpes Zoster). http://www.cdc.gov/shingles/index.html (2016).
National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. Shingles (Herpes Zoster). http://www.nfid.org/idinfo/shingles.aspx. (2016)