Shingles

What are Shingles?

Shingles is an incredibly common illness, affecting as many as 1 out of every 3 people in North America. Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is caused by the varicella virus which resides in your spinal cord after you have recovered from chicken pox. Anyone who has had chicken pox in their lifetime may at some point develop shingles, and the risk increases as you get older. About half of all cases of shingles occur in men and women over the age of 60.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Shingles?

Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person has had chickenpox, this virus stays inactive within their body, and can reactive years later to cause shingles. Shingles manifest as a painful rash that develops on one side of the face or body. This rash forms blisters that will scab over in 7 to 10 days, and go away in 2 to 4 weeks. Before the rash develops many people may have pain or tingling in the area where the rash will develop, as early as 5 days before. Most commonly shingles manifest in a single stripe on either side of the body. In rare cases, the rash may be more widespread and look similar to chicken pox. Other symptoms include fever, headache, chills and upset stomach.

Shingles cannot be passed from person to person, however, a person with active shingles can pass the varicella-zoster virus to a person who is not immune to chicken pox. The exposed person may then develop chickenpox, but not shingles.

Where am I Most at Risk?

As immunization against the varicella zoster virus is common in North America, you are not at risk here unless unimmunized. Developing countries where vaccination is not common have higher instances of shingles and chicken pox both. Certain groups of people are more at risk for developing shingles than others. This includes people who have compromised immune systems, people with certain cancers, people with HIV, and the elderly. People who develop shingles will rarely ever have another episode, though it is possible to have more than one.

How Can I Prevent Shingles?

As shingles is less contagious than chickenpox, you are at a lower risk of being transferring the disease to other people as long as you blisters are covered and you have no direct contact with the infected person. The most effective way to reduce the risk of developing shingles is to get vaccinated against it, especially if you have had chicken pox.

The CDC recommends that people over the age of 60 get a single dose of the shingles vaccine, to reduce the risk of shingles. There is some evidence suggesting to get immunized against Shingles even as early as age 50. Immunocompromised people should talk to their doctors about vaccination, and how to prevent shingles. This vaccine is publically funded in Ontario to seniors from 65-70 years of age.


References:

Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (2017). Shingles information. Retrieved from:

https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/prevention-treatment.html

Mayo Clinic.org (2017). Shingles information. Retrieved from:

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/shingles/basics/definition/con-20019574

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