Protect Yourself from Shingles

If you’ve ever had chickenpox over the course of your lifetime, the virus that caused it, varicella zoster, has lain dormant in your body since that time. And it can reactivate years later and cause shingles, a painful condition.

The risk of developing shingles increases with age. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that each year 1 million cases of shingles occur. The risk of developing shingles is elevated among people with compromised immune systems and those who receive immunosuppressive drugs. Prior to the development of shingles’ characteristic rash, it’s common to experience itching, pain or a tingling sensation in the area where the rash will appear.

Shortly thereafter a red rash develops. The rash is comprised of fluid-filled blisters that open and eventually become covered with a crust. The area can be sensitive to touch and/or itch. The rash may form as a strip of blisters wrapping around the torso or the side of the face. Shingles can be accompanied by headache, fatigue and fever. It’s important to consult your provider if the shingles rash occurs in the vicinity of your eyes. Without treatment, the infection can result in permanent eye damage. There is no cure for shingles. Cases of shingles typically last between 3 and 5 weeks.

If someone comes into contact with the open sores of the shingles rash, he or she can be infected. However, the infection will result in chickenpox rather than shingles. Although most people who contract shingles experience only one episode, it’s not impossible to have more than one occurrence.

Fortunately, vaccines have been produced to reduce the possibility of developing shingles. Most recently, in 2017 the Federal Drug Administration approved Shingrix, which is given in two doses and offers protection against shingles. It is recommended for people aged 50 and older, including those who have previously received the Zostavax vaccine. Of course, there’s no guarantee that the vaccine will prevent shingles, but it’s likely to reduce the severity of the disease among those who have been vaccinated. No prescription is required for the shingles vaccine, which is available in physicians’ offices and pharmacies.

Author
Ithaca Primary Care

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