Steer Clear of Shingles—Get Vaccinated
It's fun to relive our youth. Reminiscing at a childhood vacation spot … taking a ride on a beloved roller coaster … seeing a favorite band on their reunion tour. But one thing you don’t want to relive is a virus that’s been lingering since you had chickenpox as a child. For most, chickenpox wasn’t very severe, you may remember the itchiness and fever as a small price to pay for getting to spend a week at home from school! However, as adults, that same virus that caused chickenpox can paint quite a different—and extremely painful—picture if it reemerges as shingles.
What Is Shingles?
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a viral infection that triggers a painful rash or blisters on the skin, usually on the side of the body or face. When you recover from chickenpox, that same virus remains inactive in the body and can reactivate later in life causing shingles.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one out of every three people in the United States will develop shingles in their lifetime. And once you’ve had it, there’s a chance you could get it again.
Risk factors for getting shingles include:
- Being over 50 and having had chickenpox as a child
- Having a weakened immune system (such as undergoing cancer treatment or having HIV)
- Having experienced a trauma or emotional stress
- Recently being ill
Early signs of shingles—which usually last several days before the rash appears—include pain, itching, or tingling in the area of the body where the rash or blisters will occur. The rash may present like a stripe on the side of the body or on one side of the face. In rare cases, the rash can spread across the entire body and look similar to chickenpox.
Other symptoms to look for include:
- Muscle weakness
- Upset stomach
If you suspect you have shingles, contact your doctor right away to prevent any long-term complications. While most cases of shingles clear up in three to five weeks, rare and serious complications can occur. These include:
- Pain or rash in the eye, which if not immediately treated can lead to permanent damage
- Loss of hearing, pain in one ear, dizziness, or loss of taste, which can be symptoms of Ramsay Hunt Syndrome and also must be treated immediately
- A bacterial skin infection
- Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) – this is the most common complication and presents after you’ve had shingles. PHN occurs as pain in the area where the shingles rash developed and can last for weeks, months, or even years.
Vaccine and Treatment
The best treatment is prevention! The CDC recommends healthy adults over age 50 get two doses of the FDA-approved vaccine called Shingrix to prevent severe symptoms and complications associated with the illness. Doses are given two to six months apart. Shingrix has proven to be more than 90% effective against shingles and PHN. Also, make sure your children, and grandchildren have received their chickenpox vaccine!
However, if you do come down with shingles, like many other viruses, over the counter medications can help alleviate the pain and discomfort. There are also anti-viral medications that can help shorten the duration and lessen the severity of the illness, but to be most effective, they must be taken as soon as possible after the rash appears.
We all want to relive our youth. Let’s relive the great, happy memories. Get the shingles vaccine so that one memory can remain in the past! Garnet Health encourages you to make an appointment online with a primary care provider www.garnethealth.org or call 845-333-7575 to make your appointment for the shingles vaccine.