Chances are that at some point in your life, you may have had chickenpox. Did you know that if you’ve had chickenpox, you may be at risk for shingles?
Here’s what you should know about shingles and how to protect yourself and your loved ones.
What is shingles?
Shingles is an infection caused by the same virus as chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus. Even after a full recovery from chickenpox, the virus stays in your body and can be triggered during periods of stress. When the virus is retriggered, it causes shingles.
What are the signs and symptoms?
In most cases, shingles appears as a rash or series of blisters on the skin. These blisters are often itchy and can also be painful. Shingles usually occur in a centralized location on one side of the body, most often on the back, arm or face.
The appearance of blisters may be accompanied by fatigue, pain, redness, rash or tingling in the affected area.
Who can get shingles?
Anybody who has contracted chickenpox can get shingles, although individuals age 50 and older and those who are immunocompromised are at a higher risk.
“Because our immune system gets weaker with age, the older you are, the higher your risk of developing shingles,” says Kay Durst, MD, FAAFP, of Roper St. Francis Physician Partners Primary Care.
Prolonged or intense stress can also trigger the virus that causes shingles. Daily stressors (like work and family), physical stressors (such as an illness or injury) and seasonal stressors (for example, the holiday season) can put pressure on your immune system and increase your risk.
Is shingles preventable?
“If you abuse alcohol, or you’re way overweight or your sugar is out of control, that means that your body is under more stress and that could cause a problem,” says Dr. Durst. Managing stress, getting enough sleep, maintaining a healthy diet and not smoking can help protect your immune system and reduce the likelihood of getting shingles.
In terms of prevention Dr. Durst says, “getting the shingles vaccine is the most important step.” In most cases, the two-part shingles vaccine causes mild to no side effects and has a 90% effectiveness rate.
Anybody age 50 or older should consult their doctor about getting vaccinated for shingles and other contagious conditions. “I recommend getting the COVID-19 vaccine also, because we have seen some cases of people having COVID and because their bodies are going through a lot, they also break out in shingles,” explains Dr. Durst.
Do you need to self-isolate with shingles?
Shingles rarely transmits between people, but open blisters can carry the virus that causes chickenpox. So, Dr. Durst advises, even though you don’t have to stay at home, “if you have open blisters, you’ll want to be careful. Especially around young children, pregnant women and anyone who isn’t vaccinated.”
What should you do if you think you have shingles?
“See your doctor right away,” says Dr. Durst. “As soon as you spot the first blister.” Shingles can be treated with prescription antiviral medications. In most cases, treatment will start working within a few days.
Early intervention is key, since the longer shingles goes untreated, the more severe the outbreak – and the long-term effects — may be.
Need help finding a primary care doctor? Contact us at (843) 402-CARE or visit rsfh.com.