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Shingles: What you need to know
Have you heard of “shingles”? Chances are you have because it’s a condition that is being talked about a lot these days. Here is what you need to know. The root of shingles is chickenpox. This is a viral infection which most all of us experience as children. Once the infection has resolved on the skin the chickenpox virus goes underground so to speak and stays within our body for the rest of our life. It’s only when our immune system becomes weakened because of illness, stress or age that the chickenpox virus can start growing again. This is what causes shingles. It is characterized by a painful red, bumpy rash that typically produces a burning sensation but sometimes itches. The rash can show up anywhere on your skin. Shingles is treated with a prescription antiviral medication along with pain medications, if needed. The sooner treatment is started the sooner the episode is likely to resolve. In some cases, especially when early treatment is delayed, a person can develop long-term pain from shingles. This is called post-herpetic neuralgia.
There is a vaccine against shingles called Zostavax. This is different than the vaccine against chickenpox. The CDC currently recommends that all persons over 60 years of age get Zostavax because an outbreak of shingles in older people tends to be more severe. In clinical trials, Zostavax reduced the incidence of shingles by 51% and the incidence of post herpetic neuralgia by 67%. But note that Zostavax is not effective against an active case of shingles. If you believe you have developed a shingles outbreak, you should be seen by a physician for evaluation right away. The doctors at Priority Emergency Room can quickly evaluate and treat this condition.
Even if you have had shingles in the past you can have another outbreak so it’s a good idea to consider getting Zostavax if you are 60 or older. Most primary care doctors will have the vaccine in their offices.