You’ve heard of shingles and maybe have seen the shingles vaccine advertised at your local pharmacy. And you wonder, “How do you get the shingles virus?” Now is the time to find out if you’re at risk for getting shingles and to take preventative measures so you can stay healthy and worry-free.
Shingles skin condition is an outbreak of painful, fluid-filled blisters that typically appears on one side of your abdomen or face. Shingles is a viral infection from the varicella-zoster virus — the same virus that causes chickenpox. If you’ve had chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in your body and may reactivate years later. Shingles is not contagious, but you can get chickenpox from someone who has shingles.
While shingles is not life threatening, it can be extremely painful. Usually pain is the first symptom of shingles, followed by a rash that appears up to 14 days later. Other symptoms of shingles include burning, itching, tingling or numbness in the skin, upset stomach, fatigue, and fever. The shingles rash causes fluid-filled blisters to appear on your skin, which rupture and crust over 7-10 days later.
You are most at-risk for getting shingles if you’ve had chickenpox. The virus remains inactive in the nerve tissue of your brain and spinal cord. It can take years for the virus to be triggered as a flare-up of shingles. According to the Center for Disease Control 99% of Americans over the age of 40 have had chickenpox. So, if you’re over the age of 40, you are in a high-risk category for developing shingles.
Your risk of getting shingles also increases as you age. Because your immune system weakens are you get older, you are more likely to get shingles if you are over the age of 50. The Mayo Clinic reports that it is estimated that half of people 80 and older will develop shingles.
Another risk factor is the state of your immune system. People with a weakened immune system are more prone to develop shingles. Your immune system can be compromised by age, immune suppressing medications, stress, major surgery, certain cancers, HIV/AIDS, or other chronic illnesses. Prolonged use of steroids like prednisone can all increase your likelihood of getting shingles.
The best way to prevent getting shingles is to avoid getting chickenpox. This is easily accomplished by getting the chickenpox vaccine, Varivax. Getting the vaccine doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get chickenpox, but it will lessen the severity of the infection and possible complications should you contract chickenpox.
You can also get a shingles vaccine – either Shingrix or Zostovax. You can get the vaccine if you’ve already had shingles to prevent further occurrences. If you haven’t gotten the vaccine, you should avoid people who have chickenpox or shingles, especially being careful not to come into contact with the blisters until they’ve scabbed over.
You can’t cure shingles, but you can do things to treat the symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral drug that will reduce the length and severity of the outbreak. You can also take medications to lessen the pain, such as patches, narcotics, numbing agents, corticosteroids, and local anesthetics.
If you find that you are in one of the high-risk groups for getting shingles or are suffering from the symptoms of a shingles outbreak, contact Vanguard Dermatology today. Located in the greater New York City area, the dermatologists at Vanguard can help provide you with needed treatment and relief.