Are You at Risk for Developing Shingles?
If you have ever had chicken pox, then the varicella zoster virus inside your body may activate at any time to produce shingles. Therefore, you are at risk for developing shingles. While the majority of cases occur in patients 60 and over, it is possible for younger people to develop shingles. Here’s what you need to know:
Zostavax is recommended for the highest risk patients, which are those 60 and older. Since the protection offered from the vaccine decreases within 5 years following administration, earlier vaccination could leave you without protection when most vulnerable.
Even patients who do not recall having had chicken pox should receive the vaccine, since the vast majority of people actually did have it in childhood. Vaccination decreases the likelihood of developing shingles and can decrease pain persisting after the rash fades away.
Possible evidence of a shingles outbreak includes:
- The development of pain, tingling, or itching on one side of the body one to five days prior to the rash visibly appearing at that location.
- A painful rash with a strip of blisters which can appear anywhere on the body, but most often on one side of the torso.
- Fever, headache, upset stomach, or chills.
Once your physician has confirmed the diagnosis, they will offer an antiviral medication like acyclovir or valacyclovir. Antivirals help to shorten the duration of the outbreak and decrease the risk of complications.
Should your outbreak area include your face, it is very important to see your eye doctor. The shingles virus can cause permanent vision loss.
The most effective means of decreasing pain and discomfort are oral pain medications.
Is Shingles Contagious?
Yes and No. Prior to crusts forming on the actual blisters, it is technically contagious. Infected patients in this stage should avoid contact with infants, pregnant women, or anyone whose autoimmune system is weak.
The herpes zoster virus that causes shingles is the same one that produces chicken pox. Therefore, it would be able to spread chicken pox. You cannot spread the actual shingles rash itself.
To contain your outbreak:
- Keep the rash covered.
- Wash hands frequently.
- Avoid touching or scratching the blisters.
In short, if you are 60 or older, it would be wise to obtain the shingles vaccination. This condition is painful, but receiving the antiviral once infected will assist in alleviating symptoms. It is a non-life-threatening condition, but care should be taken to decrease the likelihood of spreading the zoster virus to vulnerable populations while in the contagious phase.