Herpes Zoster, or Shingles, as it is more commonly known, is a viral infection that causes a wide strip of painful blisters to appear on the body. Although shingles can affect any part of the body, it usually appears somewhere on the torso, neck or face. In some cases, shingles can cause more serious health complications such as vision loss if the rash occurs near the eyes. In cases where the person has a compromised immune system, the rash may be widespread similar to chickenpox.
Shingles comes from the varicella zoster virus, which is the same virus that chickenpox comes from. Typically, we develop chickenpox as a child which means that afterward, the shingles virus lays dormant inside us, sometimes for decades. While most people who get chickenpox may never develop shingles, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 out of every 3 people will have shingles in their lifetime.
Shingles typically affects adults over the age of 50, however, it is possible to develop the painful infection at any age. Prior to developing the rash, it is common to have tingling, prickling, pain or itchiness in the area that the rash will appear in. Small, fluid-filled blisters begin to form about one week after the person has been exposed. These small and painful blisters will usually scab in roughly 7-10 days after forming. Most people are fully clear of the infection after 4 weeks, however, pain can persist for months even after the rash has disappeared.
SIMILARITIES BETWEEN CHICKENPOX AND SHINGLES:
- Fluid-filled blisters
- Fever, headache, malaise
- Clears up in 7-10 days
- Highly contagious
- Fluid-filled blisters
- Shooting/stabbing pain
- Fever, chills, headache, malaise.
- Stomach upset
- Cannot be passed to others
- Clears up in 7-10 days but pain persists
Unlike chickenpox, shingles cannot be passed to others. However, it is still possible to pass the varicella zoster virus to someone, which can cause chickenpox in those who may not have had chickenpox earlier in life. To prevent passing the virus from one person to another, the CDC recommends covering the rash, refraining from scratching or picking at the rash, and washing your hands often.
As with any infection, there is always a chance for complications, particularly in those who have a compromised immune system. One of the complications that can arise from shingles is a long-term nerve pain called postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN, which targets the area where singles occurred and can be painful enough to interrupt day-to-day life. Additional complications from shingles include pneumonia and hearing issues, encephalitis and in rare cases, even death.
Fortunately, there is an FDA-approved shingles vaccine for adults over the age of 50 who are looking to spare themselves from this painful infection and potential complications. The CDC recommends that healthy adults (age 50+) receive two doses of Shingrix 2 to 6 months apart. The vaccine, which is administered into the upper arm, is over 90% effective in preventing the onset of shingles. What’s even better is that Shingrix continues to protect you at an effective rate of 85% for over the next 4 years. Even if you have previously suffered from shingles or have never had chickenpox, you are still a candidate for the vaccine to prevent getting shingles in the future.
If you would like to learn more about shingles, or if you need to seek treatment to ease the symptoms of shingles or want to know more about the shingles vaccine, contact our office or log in to your SSD patient portal to leave a question for one of our dermatology specialists.