According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), about 1 out of every 3 people in the United States will develop shingles, also known as herpes zoster, in their lifetime. An estimated 1 million people get shingles each year in this country. Even if you have had chickenpox, you can get shingles. Children can also get shingles. Your risk of shingles increases as you get older.
Transmission: people get Shingles when the varicella zoster virus (VZV) which causes chickenpox, reactivates in their bodies after they have already had chickenpox. The virus stays dormant until it reactivates. A person can get shingles more than once. If you have Shingles, direct contact with the fluid from your blisters can spread the virus to people who have never had chicken pox or have never received the chicken pox vaccine, but they will only develop chicken pox, not shingles. To prevent the spread of infection to others: cover the rash/blisters, avoid touching it until the rash has crusted over, wash your hands often.
Symptoms: includes a painful rash that blisters and scabs over in 7 to 10 days and can take up to 4 weeks to heal. Up to 5 days before the rash appears, a person may experience pain or itching in that area and usually shows up as a single stripe on the left or right side of the body. Sometimes the rash can appear on the face or along a nerve path but most commonly on the chest and abdomen. Other symptoms include fever, headache, and a sense that you don’t feel good.
Complications: The most common complication is severe long-term nerve pain called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). PHN can last for months or years after the rash goes away. Your risk of PHN increases with age. Other complications include blindness, pneumonia, hearing problems, brain inflammation or even death.
Treatment: anti-viral medicines, pain medicine, calamine lotion, colloidal oatmeal baths.
Prevention: The CDC recommends 2 doses of the latest recombinant zoster vaccine also called RZV or Shingrix, to prevent shingles in adults 50 years and older. The two doses should be given 2-6 months apart. The vaccine is also now recommended for adults 19 years and older who have a weakened immune system. The shingles vaccine is the only way to protect against shingles. It is also recommended for anyone who is immunocompromised and has received the Zostavax vaccine at least 2 months prior.
Who is at a great risk for having shingles: people who have immune-compromising conditions such as certain cancers and HIV, people who take drugs that affect their immune systems such as steroids or organ transplantation rejection drugs.
Need to know: You cannot get shingles from someone who has shingles, but you can get chicken pox from someone who has shingles if you never had chicken pox.
Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist about the shingles vaccination.