Shingles, also called herpes zoster, is a disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person has chickenpox (usually in childhood) the virus becomes inactive and stays in specific cells in the body. For most people, the immune system keeps the virus in these cells. However, as people age or if the immune system weakens, the virus can be reactivated and cause shingles. While shingles is not contagious, people who have not had chickenpox or have not received the chickenpox vaccine can catch chickenpox from a person with shingles.
The only way to reduce the risk of developing shingles is to get vaccinated. A one-time shingles vaccine (Zostavax®) is recommended for people 60 or older, even if they have had shingles. Sometimes doctors recommend it for people age 50 to 59.
Some people will develop shingles even if they get the vaccination, but the vaccine may reduce the length and severity of the shingles episode. There are certain people who should not have the shingles vaccine. Talk with your healthcare professional if you have questions about the shingles vaccine.
The cost of the shingles vaccine may not be covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or insurance. Check with your health plan and look into a vaccine assistance program if you are concerned about out-of-pocket cost. Check with your Rite Aid Pharmacist or visit www.riteaid.com (select “Vaccine Central” under the “Pharmacy” tab) to find out if they offer the vaccine.
Shingles causes a painful, blistering rash. Early signs of shingles (before the rash appears) may include
burning or shooting pain, tingling, itching, or very sensitive skin. These early signs usually occur on one side of the body or face. They may come and go or be constant, and can occur from 1 to 14 days before the rash appears.
The shingles rash first appears as reddish bumps that turn into clear, fluid-filled blisters after a few days. The blisters cause stinging or burning pain that ranges from mild to severe. Within 7 to 10 days, the blisters turn yellow or bloody before they eventually scab (or crust) over. The rash usually goes away completely within 2 to 4 weeks.
Other symptoms that may accompany shingles include fever, headache, chills, nausea, diarrhea, upset stomach, and difficulty urinating.
There is no cure for shingles, but early treatment with medicines may shorten the length and severity of the episode. Medicine may also prevent or reduce complications, such as lingering pain after the rash resolves (a condition called post-herpetic neuralgia).
If you think you may have shingles, contact your healthcare provider right away to discuss treatment options:
Ask your doctor about what treatments are right for you and be sure to discuss possible side effects of any recommended medicines.
In addition to taking medications, here are some additional ways to manage the pain and discomfort of shingles:
Shingles, American Academy of Family Physicians
Shingles, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research
Shingles, Medline Plus
Shingles (Herpes Zoster) Overview, Centers for Disease Control
Shingles: Signs and Symptoms, American Academy of Dermatology
Shingles: Tips, American Academy of Dermatology
Shingles Vaccination: What Everyone Should Know, Centers for Disease Control
These articles are not a substitute for medical advice, and are not intended to treat or cure any disease. Advances in medicine may cause this information to become outdated, invalid, or subject to debate. Professional opinions and interpretations of scientific literature may vary. Consult your healthcare professional before making changes to your diet, exercise, or medication regime.