Shingles is a viral infection caused by the herpes zoster virus and most typically causes a very painful rash. This rash usually develops on one side of the face or body but can take up to four weeks or longer to completely clear.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 out of 3 adults in the United States will develop shingles at some point in their lifetime. About 1 million cases of shingles are reported every year but there are actions you can take to reduce your chances of a shingles infection.
Anyone who has ever been infected and recovered from chickenpox may develop shingles. The reason is that the same virus, the zoster virus, is what causes chickenpox and shingles.
How this works is once a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus remains dormant within the body, typically in the nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain. Researchers are not exactly sure what causes the virus to reactivate as shingles. It may be due to lowered immunity to infections as you age since most of shingles infections are present in adults 50 years old and over, and those with weakened immune function. However, stress, tobacco use, poor diet, obesity and certain chronic diseases may increase your risks of a shingles infection.
Not everyone who has had chickenpox will develop shingles, but for those that do, you may notice these symptoms: Pain, burning, numbness, tingling on the skin; sensitivity to touch; red rash; fluid-filled blisters; itching; fever, headache, sensitivity to light and fatigue.
Shingles isn’t life-threatening; however, it can be extremely painful. Pain is usually the first symptom and for some can be very intense and debilitating. Complications can occur from shingles such as post-herpetic neuralgia, which is chronic pain from damage to the infected nerves. This pain can become chronic and permanent. Vision loss, neurological problems and other skin infections can be other complications from shingles.
Most people who develop shingles have only one episode during their lifetime. However, a person can have a second or even a third episode.
Shingles cannot be passed from one person to another. However, a person with shingles can pass the varicella-zoster virus to anyone who isn’t immune to chickenpox. This usually occurs through direct contact with the open sores of the shingles rash. Once infected, the person may develop chickenpox. Once the rash of shingles has developed crusts, the person is no longer infectious.
If you have shingles, it is important to: cover your rash; avoid touching or scratching the rash; wash your hands often; avoid contact with people, particularly pregnant women, infants and people with weakened immune systems.
The most reliable and effective way to prevent shingles is through vaccination. A new shingles vaccine, Shingrix, was released in November 2017 and has shown to be 95 percent effective in preventing shingles and complications associated with shingles. Shingrix has surpassed the effectiveness of Zostavax, the previously recommended vaccine for shingles which was only 51 percent effective.
It is recommended all adults 50 years and older get vaccinated with Shingrix, even if previously vaccinated with Zostavax or if you have previously had shingles. Shingrix is an intramuscular injection that is given in two doses, from twp to six months apart.
Side effects to vaccination with Shingrix is classic of most immunizations. About 90 percent of vaccinated individuals will experience soreness, pain, redness and mild swelling at the injection site. About 10 percent of vaccinated people will experience mild fever and fatigue for a few days. It is important to remember that these reactions are not “bad reactions” to this vaccine. These side effects are expected and are a normal part of the immune process.
Lincoln County Public Health is currently taking orders for the Shingrix vaccine if you are interested in getting vaccinated. We can bill directly to your insurance company but some out of pocket costs may apply.
Call 406-283-2447 for more information or to place your order.
Riley Black is public health nurse for Lincoln County.