Shingles: What you should know

Amanda FloecknerHealthy Living

If you are over the age of 60, discuss getting the shingles vaccination with your healthcare provider or local pharmacist.

Chickenpox is a common childhood disease. Those infected generally break out in spots, itch for a few days and get better. But for nearly one million Americans of all ages each year, that’s not the end of the story.Early treatment aides shingles recovery

Chickenpox is a common childhood disease. Those infected generally break out in spots, itch for a few days and get better. But for nearly one million Americans of all ages each year, that’s not the end of the story.

Who’s at risk for developing shingles?

Anyone who has had chickenpox – studies show that 99.5% of adults in the U.S. — carries the virus for shingles, a painful skin rash that can be triggered at any time. The virus most commonly affects people over age 60, but also at risk are those with weakened immune systems from disease or those taking drugs that suppress the immune system. The virus develops only in those who have had chickenpox.

Shingles cannot be passed from one person to another; however the virus that causes shingles, varicella zoster, can be spread from a person with active shingles to a person who has never had chickenpox through direct contact with the fluid from the blisters; but not through sneezing, coughing or casual contact. The risk of spreading the virus is low if the rash is covered.

Shingles symptoms

Symptoms generally appear in stages and may start with a headache or sensitivity to light, fever, upset stomach or feeling like you’re coming down with the flu. Later you may feel itching, tingling, pain or numbness in an area usually on one side of your body. A red rash may then appear which spreads in fluid-filled clusters that crust over as the illness progresses. For most, the illness may last two to several weeks, but for 10% to 20% of those who develop shingles, pain can continue after the rash is gone for months or even years.

Early treatment may ease pain

The shingles virus is treated with antiviral and pain medications. If you think you may have shingles, see  your doctor or healthcare provider as soon as possible. Early treatment can mean your rash will heal sooner, hurt less and may reduce the chances that you will experience ongoing nerve pain.

Can shingles be prevented?

You can greatly reduce your chances of developing shingles by getting the one-time shingles vaccination. The shot is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for persons over 60 years of age. Some people who have weakened immune systems or other medical issues should not get the vaccine, so ask your doctor or healthcare provider if it is right for you. In addition to reducing the chance of an outbreak, those vaccinated generally experience a milder case if they do develop shingles.

The shingles vaccination is covered by some insurance plans. Check with your insurance provider as the amount of any co-payments or coinsurance will depend on your plan. You should discuss this with your healthcare provider and may also contact your pharmacist, who also can administer the shingles vaccine.

For more information, visit Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.