Remember having chickenpox as a kid? It might strike again . . . as shingles.
Shingles is common: Almost 1 out of 3 Americans will get shingles in their lifetime – and adults 60 and older make up about half of all cases.
Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, the varicella zoster virus. After you recover from chickenpox, the virus remains inactive in your body until it’s triggered decades later as an active infection. Triggers include stress, fatigue, trauma, and serious illness. At the same time, the immune system declines with age, so the risk of infection increases.
Shingles can be very painful, with a blistering rash that may last 2 to 4 weeks. It usually appears on one side of the body (occasionally on the face or eye) with a tingling, itching, or burning sensation. Shingles can potentially cause neuralgia, nerve pain that can last for months or even years, long after the rash and blisters disappear. About 20% of those who get shingles develop neuralgia.
Those at the highest risk of developing shingles are individuals with suppressed immune systems, such as those being treated for cancer, or receiving chronic immune suppression such as steroids or other medicines given after an organ transplant.
The good news is, shingles can be prevented with a vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that everyone 60 and older get a single dose of Zostavax®, a live vaccine shown to reduce the incidence of shingles by 51% and related neuralgia by 67%.
A newer vaccine, Shingrix®, was approved by the FDA in October 2017 for adults 50 and older. Studies have shown that Shingrix® is over 90% effective in preventing shingles. This non-live vaccine is given in a series of two doses, 2 to 6 months apart.
Ask your healthcare provider which shingles vaccine is the most appropriate and cost-effective for you.
-- Tricia Hagedorn, PharmD, BCOP
If you get shingles
· See your healthcare provider as soon as symptoms appear: itchy skin, rash, flu-like fever or headache.
· Use over-the-counter pain relievers (ibuprofen or acetaminophen) for pain.
· Try wet compresses, calamine lotion, and colloidal oatmeal baths to relieve itching.
· Don’t scratch or pop blisters; the fluid can be contagious.
· Cover the rash; wash your hands often.
· You’re contagious until the blisters scab or crust over.
· Antiviral medication may shorten the duration and/or severity of shingles.
Shingles vaccination is available in NH+C’s clinics in Farmington, Lakeville, Lonsdale and Northfield. Call your primary care provider to schedule an appointment.
· Farmington Clinic 651-460-2300
· Lakeville Clinic 952-469-0500
· Lonsdale Clinic 507-744-3245
· Northfield Clinic 507-646-1494