Everything You Need to Know About Shingles

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What is Shingles?

Shingles is common in Los Angeles as in other parts of America. Shingles is a skin rash that is caused by, Varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. After someone has chickenpox, the Varicella zoster virus continues to live in the nervous system, never being fully removed from the body.

How is the shingles virus reactivated?

In many situations it is unclear why the Varicella zoster virus is reactivated. However, it is believed, that the Varicella zoster virus can be reactivated when there is emotional stress, an immune deficiency, or when the individual has cancer. If a person has ever had chickenpox they are at risk for the development of shingles.

Who gets shingles?

Shingles are most common in people over the age of 50. It is estimated that there are over 500,000 cases of shingles each year in America.

Shingles Symptoms

Shingles is a rash, but before the rash shows, the person with shingles may have days of burning and sensitive skin. The shingles display as small blisters on red skin, with new blisters showing along the individual nerves traveling in a path from the spinal cord, for three to five days. Ultimately, the shingle blisters pop, emitting pus and then the affected area crusts over and heals.

Duration of Shingles

From the beginning of the pain to the healing, shingles can take three to four weeks. Sometimes there will be pain but the shingles blisters don’t appear.

Are shingles contagious?

Yes. Shingles can be passed to people who haven’t had chickenpox. However, these people will develop chickenpox instead of shingles. If a person has had chickenpox, they cannot catch shingles from someone else but they may develop shingles later in life. Once the shingle blisters have crusted over, the virus can no longer be spread.

Is there a shingles vaccine?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a vaccine, Shingrix. While there are treatments for shingles, getting vaccinated if you are over the age of 50 or over the age of 19 (with a weakened immune system), is the best modern choice. Two shots over 2-6 months apart are required for successful immunity.

The tests that were conducted over a four-year period showed that the vaccine was 60% effective in reducing shingles symptoms and the occurrences of shingles in the 50+ community. Studies continue in an effort to determine the long term effectiveness of the shingles vaccine.

If a person has a weakened immune system, they shouldn’t receive the vaccine due to the fact that it contains live, weakened viral particles.

Vaccination against Varicella zoster is now recommended for children, so it is expected that the incidences of shingles in adults will decrease as these children age.

Shingles treatment

Shingles can be fought using antiviral drugs such as acyclovir or valacyclovir. These medicines can reduce the duration and intensity of the rash if treatment is commenced within 72 hours of the shingles rash appearance. While some doctors also prescribe steroids, the studies have not been conclusive about the benefit of this treatment. Pain medications may also be added for symptom control and patient comfort. The affected area should be kept clean with soap and water, while anti-itching lotions may also ease discomfort.

Does shingles have complications?

Shingles tend to heal well and have few complications. Sometimes, though, the blisters may be infected. If this happens you may notice red streaks around the infection and you will need to call your doctor as antibiotics are used to treat this.