Shedding Some Light on Shingles

Shingles. If you’ve had the chickenpox, you can develop shingles, simple as that. Shingles is also known as “zoster” or “herpes zoster” (the chickenpox virus) and affects an estimated 1 million people in the US each year. In fact, 1 out of 3 people in the US will develop shingles. So it’s likely that you know someone in the Naperville-Plainfield-Aurora area who has had it.  Knowing the early warning signs can help you manage the virus while the vaccine can offer up some protection. Here’s what you need to know:

Who is at risk?

Generally shingles is an “older person’s illness”, since over half of all cases affect men and women 60 years or older. However, even children who have had the chickenpox can develop shingles. And, contrary to popular belief, you can get shingles multiple times. Those who are immune-suppressed have a greater risk of developing shingles. Medical conditions such as leukemia, lymphoma and HIV task the immune system, making it more difficult to fight infections. Even stress can compromise your immune system, making you more susceptible to the shingles virus. Those on steroids or anti-rejection meds (from transplants) also have a greater risk.

How do you know if you have shingles?

Most likely, you will not feel like yourself before you develop the “shingles rash”. As the chickenpox virus reactivates, you may experience headaches and flu-like symptoms without a fever. Most notice a tingling, piercing or shooting pain with itching on one side of the body where a rash will appear many days or even weeks later. Shingles develops on ONE side of the body only. It is very common to have the rash on the trunk of your body (following nerves) as well as on your face around one eye. Multiple shingle rashes are common, but again, the rash will be confined to one side of the body.

The rash will continue to itch and then form blisters with clear to cloudy fluid. Blisters will ooze, and crust over in about 5 days. This can be especially dangerous if the shingles are close to the eye. We recommend that you seek medical attention as shingles can cause blindness. The rash will heal within 2-4 weeks, although it is possible to see some scarring. The pain, post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN), however, can last years or months after the rash has healed.

Is it contagious?

You cannot give SHINGLES to another person. You CAN, however, pass the shingles virus on to someone during the blister stage if they haven’t had the chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine. In this case, the person would get the chickenpox, and not shingles. Therefore, if you have a case of shingles, we recommend you do the following: keep the rash covered, wash hands regularly, and avoid pregnant women who have not had chickenpox (or the vaccine) or anyone else who is immune-compromised.

What can I do if I get it?

If your pain is severe and the rash is near your eye, see your medical professional. Antiviral drugs are available to shorten the duration of the illness and hopefully decrease the PHN associated with shingles. The virus will eventually go away on its own. You can manage the pain with ibuprofen and the itch with oatmeal baths and calamine lotion. Again, we recommend covering the rash during the blister phase to prevent you from scratching and possibly spreading the virus to others as mentioned above.

Tell me about the vaccine.

The CDC recommends that everyone 60 and over get vaccinated for the shingles virus. There are exceptions however. Speak with your doctor to make sure your immune system is strong enough and that you are not allergic to any of the ingredients the vaccine itself. Pregnant women should NOT get the vaccine. Women should not become pregnant until at least 3 months after getting the shingles vaccine.

Those who have already had a case of the shingles can get them again and again. You should wait until you recover from the virus completely, before getting the vaccine. The vaccine does not guarantee that you will not contract the virus, but the severity of the symptoms and duration of the illness should be lessened. Your doctor can also take a blood test to determine if you are immune to the shingles virus, therefore eliminating the need for the vaccine.

Where to get the Vaccine

walgreens

Although many walk-in medical facilities can administer the vaccine, we’re rather partial to the Walgreens at Rush Copley. They are located at 2040 Ogden Avenue in Aurora. This Walgreens is focused on their pharmacy and over-the-counter medications. We particularly like the fact that there’s ample time to consult with your pharmacist. Ask for Blanca, or give them a call at 630.499.4392 for more information.

It’s important to have an open conversation with your healthcare provider. If you have questions regarding the shingles virus, the vaccine or your immunity to the virus, please call our Plainfield physician’s office during regular business hours.