Shingles (herpes zoster) is a painful, contagious rash caused by the chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster). Shingles is caused from the same virus that causes chickenpox. Once someone has had the chickenpox the virus remains dormant in their bodies. This dormant (inactive) virus can reactivate years later causing shingles.
One out of every three people in the United States will develop shingles. Half of these persons, being over the age of 60. A person usually only has one episode of shingles, but it is not uncommon for a person to have as second or third episode.
The first sign/symptom of shingles is a painful rash on one side of the body or face.
The rash will then form blisters. These blisters will scab over in 7 to 10 days and should completely resolve within 2 to 4 weeks. If someone has a weak immune system, the rash may be wider-spread and may look more similar to a “chickenpox rash”.
Other symptoms may include fever, headache, chills and upset stomach. The most common complication related to shingles is persistent pain.
The shingles virus is spread through direct contact with the fluid filled blisters, not through sneezing, coughing or casual contact. Once the rash develops crusts the person is no longer contagious. Shingles are less contagious that chickenpox.
If you develop shingles you should: keep your rash covered, do not touch or scratch your rash and wash your hands often. Until your rash crusts you should avoid contact with pregnant women who have never had the chickenpox, premature infants and/or persons who have a low immune system (persons who have HIV, who are receiving chemotherapy or organ transplant recipients).
You should contact your physician as soon as you suspect that you may have contracted the virus. Prompt intervention and prescription anti-viral drugs decrease your chance of developing complications and can shorten your healing time. You may also need your physician to prescribe pain medications or numbing creams.
If you have never had the chickenpox and have not received the varicella vaccine, you should avoid contact with someone who has the shingles.
Zostavax (“ZOS-tah-vax”) is not a treatment for Shingles—it’s a vaccine you can get now to help reduce your risk of getting Shingles in the future. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that appropriate adults 60 or older get vaccinated to help prevent Shingles. Contact your physician to discuss whether or not you should receive this vaccination.