News Room: ENQUIRER: There are ways to fight shingles
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By: Toni Schklar
Shingles is a condition involving an outbreak of a rash or blisters on the skin. It is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. People who have had chicken pox in the past are at risk for developing shingles later because the virus remains inactive in certain nerve cells of the body.
A person must already have had a case of chicken pox in order to develop shingles. Unfortunately, not everyone knows for certain if they have had chicken pox.
- Almost 1 of 3 people in the United States will develop shingles (also known as zoster or herpes zoster).
- It is estimated there are 1 million cases each year in this country.
- About half of all shingles cases occur in people 60 years or older.
- There is evidence to suggest that a weakened immune system may cause the virus to break out of its inactive state, multiply and move along nerve fibers to the skin.
People are at risk for shingles if they:
- Have a weakened immune system (ex: people with cancer, HIV, taking steroids)
- Are over the age of 50
- Have been ill
- Are experiencing trauma
- Are under stress
Signs and Symptoms:
- Usually starts as a painful rash on one side of the face or body.
- The rash forms blisters that typically scab over in 7-10 days and clears up within 2-4 weeks.
- Before the rash develops, there is often pain, itching or tingling in the area where the rash will develop. This may happen from 1-5 days before the rash appears.
- Most commonly, the rash occurs in a single stripe around either the left or right side of the body or face. Shingles can affect the eye and cause loss of vision.
- Other symptoms of shingles can include fever, headache, chills and upset stomach.
To see what the shingles rash and blisters look like, go to www.Zostavax.com
- Shingles cannot be passed from one person to another.
- The virus that causes shingles can be spread from a person with active shingles to a person who has never had chicken pox. The person exposed to the virus might develop chicken pox, but they would not develop shingles.
- The virus is spread through direct contact with fluid from the rash blisters (not through sneezing, coughing or casual contact).
- Shingles is less contagious than chicken pox. The risk of a person with shingles spreading the virus is low if the rash is covered.
If you think you have shingles:
- Contact your physician right away. There are medications (antivirals) that can shorten the duration and intensity of the shingles if taken early.
- Keep the rash covered.
- Do not touch or scratch the rash.
- Wash your hands often to prevent the spread of the virus.
- Until the rash has developed crusts, avoid contact with:
- Pregnant women who have never had chicken pox or the shingles vaccine;
- Premature or low birth weight infants; and
- People with weak immune systems.
- There is no cure for shingles, but treatments for the condition can help ease the pain and discomfort.
- Antiviral medications can be helpful if started within 72 hours of the first sign of the shingles.
- Pain medications such as over the counter Tylenol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ex: Motrin, Ibuprofen) can be helpful. For more severe pain, prescription pain meds and steroids may be prescribed.
- Topical treatments such as Calamine lotion and oatmeal baths may be soothing.
- Infection (typically treated with antibiotics).
- Loss of pigmentation (some people have white patches where the rash has been).
- Scarring (uncommon, but can be a result of the blisters).
- Ramsay-Hunt syndrome (the facial nerve becomes infected. Symptoms include earache, deafness, dizziness, and paralysis of the face. Notify your physician immediately).
- Eye ulceration (the surface of the eye, cornea, may become scarred).
- Encephalitis (infection of the brain. Symptoms include high fever, confusion, headaches, and lack of energy. This is very rare).
- Postherpetic neuralgia (may be the result of nerve fiber damage. Damaged fibers can’t send messages from the skin to the brain causing pain which may persist long after other shingles signs have gone).
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) there are two vaccines that can help prevent shingles:
- Chicken pox vaccine. This vaccine is routinely given to children aged 12-18 months to prevent chicken pox. Experts recommend it also for adults and older children who have never had chicken pox. The vaccine does not provide 100 percent immunity, but it does considerably reduce the risk of complications and severity of the disease.
- Shingles vaccine. This vaccine (Zostavax) can help protect adults over 60 who have had chicken pox. It does not provide 100 percent immunity, but it does considerably reduce the risk of complications and severity of shingles. The vaccine is preventive and is not used to treat people who are infected.
NOTE: It is important to see your physician right away if you suspect you have shingles. Early intervention can help prevent potential complications.