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What You Need to Know About Shingles

Shingles, also called herpes zoster, is a painful rash disease. Learn more about shingles and how to prevent it from Dr. Angela Olerich of McFarland Clinic Webster City Family Medicine.

What is Shingles?

Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus–the same virus that causes chickenpox. If you have ever had chickenpox, you can get shingles. Almost one out of three people in the United States will develop shingles in their lifetime. You can get shingles at any age, but it is more common in older adults.

Symptoms of Shingles

Symptoms of shingles can include...

  • Pain, itching or tingling in one area of the body.
  • A rash in the same area about one to five days later. The rash consists of blisters that usually scab over in seven to ten days and clear up in two to four weeks. The rash is usually limited to one side of the body and follows a nerve pathway.

If severe, shingles symptoms can also include...

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Upset stomach

Shingles can lead to nerve pain after the infection called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which can last for months or years after the rash goes away. This nerve pain is one of the main reasons why we recommend you see your doctor if you suspect you have shingles. We can prescribe antivirals and sometimes anti-inflammatories to help reduce the infection and potentially reduce nerve pain afterwards.

How Do You Prevent Shingles?

If you have have shingles, can your spread it to others? The varicella zoster virus can be found in the blisters caused by shingles. If you have direct contact with the blister fluid, you can get infected with the virus. A person with shingles can spread the virus that causes this disease to others who do not have immunity against the virus. If they get infected, they will develop chickenpox–not shingles.

So how do you prevent shingles? Since it is caused by the chicken pox virus, if you’ve ever had chicken pox, that virus is still dormant in your nerves and could re-activate.

There are two shingles vaccines available in the U.S. The first is Zoster vaccine live, or Zostavax, and is approved for people over 50 and recommended as a single dose to those over 60. It has been out since 2006 and is the most common vaccine people know about. The second vaccine is the newer Shingrix, which the CDC recommends for people age 50 or older. Shingrix was licensed by the FDA in October 2017. It is a non-live protein virus given in a two-dose regimen.

The older Zostavax is about 50 percent effective in reducing the risk of shingles and 70 percent effective in reducing the pain afterwards (postherpetic neuralgia). The newer, two-dose vaccine Shingrix fares better in clinical trials at over 90 percent effectiveness in reducing the risk of shingles and 90 percent reduction in neuralgia.

If you previously received Zostavax, it is now recommended you get the Shingrix as well.

How Can I Get the Shingles Vaccine?

To get the proper vaccine for shingles, or if you have any questions about shingles, talk to your primary care provider in McFarland Clinic Family Medicine or Adult Medicine.

Tagged As: Prevention and Wellness

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