Recently had a close friend and a family member describe their issues with a case of Shingles. The close friend is older than 60, while the family member is approaching 50. These encounters stimulated me to share some information about Shingles.

Shingles Defined:

Shingles affects nerves and causes pain and blisters in adults. It is caused by the varicella-zoster (VZV) virus that causes Chickenpox in children. After chickenpox recovery, the virus may remain dormant in some nerve cells of the system. For unknown reasons, the virus may re-activate in adulthood. When this happens, it produces shingles.

Most people never get shingles, with about 1 in 5 people who had chickenpox getting shingles as adults. Shingles seem to occur once in life. However, some individuals may be subjected to multiple episodes.

Appearance

Blisters occur and are clustered in one specific area vs. scattered all over the body like chickenpox. When the virus travels along a nerve path to the skin surface, a rash appears as a band on one side of the face or body

“Shingles” comes from the Latin for belt which is often the shape of the rash.

Contagious

Shingles IS NOT a contagious condition. While we are fearful of ‘catching’ it, that is not the case. What you can catch from a shingles patient is chickenpox if you have never had chickenpox yourself.

Prevention

There is a shingles vaccine available for prevention. The brand name is ZOSTAVAX. It can be given to patients 50-59, and it is strongly recommended for all adults over the age of 60. It is given as a one time dose.

As with all vaccines, none provide 100% immunity. However, if you get vaccinated and develop a case, the case appears to be milder than if you do not get the vaccine. if you are between 50-59 and have a case, discuss the possibility of early vaccination with your physician to prevent a future episode.

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