Shingles 101: Are you at Risk?

One out of every three Triangle residents may have a painful disease lying dormant in their systems, waiting for an opportunity to strike. Anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk of developing shingles, a painful, red, blistering rash that develops on one side of the body. It’s caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. After someone recovers from chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in the body. For some reason, the virus can “reactivate” later, causing shingles. Because the rash can cause debilitating pain, it’s important to know the symptoms, who it affects and how to protect yourself.

SYMPTOMS OF SHINGLES
The most obvious symptom of shingles is a red, painful rash that appears on one side of the body. It’s typically on the waist but can occur on the shoulder or face. Other symptoms include:

Headaches
Chills 
Upset stomach
Fever
Joint pain
Swollen lymph nodes
Malaise or general ill feeling
Blisters 
Around one-to-five days before the rash forms, people frequently have itching or tingling where it will appear. Thankfully, shingles is not contagious. However, if you have shingles and you contact someone who has never had chicken pox, he or she could develop chicken pox — but not shingles.

WHO IS AT RISK FOR DEVELOPING SHINGLES?
Anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk of developing shingles. However, some are more likely to develop it than others. Those at greatest risk include:

Those 60 and older
Those who had chickenpox before age 1
Those with HIV or another disease that weakens the immune system
Those who are on medication that suppresses the immune system
If you have not had a shingles vaccination, you are also at greater risk.

COMPLICATIONS FROM SHINGLES
While most people are able to recover from shingles without any long-term effects, there is the possibility of developing serious complications. These include:

Post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN)

Those with PHN continue to have severe, often debilitating, pain where the shingles rash was, even after the rash has cleared up. Sometimes, the pain continues for several years after the patient has recovered from shingles. While rare among those under age 40, the risk of developing PHN increases with age, particularly if over 60.

Blindness

If shingles are located in or around an eye, painful infections can develop. This can lead to vision loss. In extreme cases, it may cause blindness.

Skin infections

It’s very important to receive proper treatment for blisters. If not, extensive bacterial skin infections can develop.

Neurological problems

Shingles can affect different nerve systems throughout the body. Depending upon which section is damaged, it can result in hearing problems, balance issues, and even brain inflammation (called encephalitis).

Treatment for shingles

Your internal medicine specialists in Raleigh can effectively treat shingles, but it’s important to see them as soon as your rash develops. Treatment includes antiviral medications and /or analgesics to help alleviate pain.

If you have shingles, do not touch or scratch the rash and keep it covered. While you can’t spread shingles through casual contact, you can spread chickenpox to those who haven’t already had it. Therefore, it’s important to wash your hands and avoid interaction with those who have weakened immune systems, have had organ transplants or those undergoing chemotherapy.

It’s very important that those with shingles avoid contact with pregnant women who have never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine. It can cause premature birth or low infant birth weight.

If you have any of the risk factors for developing shingles, don’t take a chance. While most people have only one outbreak of shingles, for others the pain of the disease can last for several years after treatment. If you have had chickenpox, you should get a shingles vaccination, which greatly reduces your chance of getting shingles. Local physicians often offer these vaccinations in their offices.

A wealth of information can also be found in this shingles vaccination brochure produced by the Centers for Disease Control.

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control. “Shingles — Overview.” Online.

National Institute of Health. “Shingles.”

The Mayo Clinic. “Shingles- Complications. “ Online.

Originally published at www.raleighmedicalgroup.com.