By: Red Hot Mamas
Published: February 15, 2011
Most of us have heard about it and some of us have already experienced it. Regardless, shingles is no laughing matter for the 1 million people a year in the United States who suffer from the virus. In fact, the condition is considered so serious that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends most Americans over the age of 60 get vaccinated to prevent shingles.
In the January 12th, 2011 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), a 300,000-patient study revealed the vaccine prevents shingles more than 50% of the time. This study was a reiteration of a 2006 analysis with similar results. Unfortunately, only 10% of people who should get it are being vaccinated. And even worse, just 16% of those aware of the vaccine knew it is recommended for people over 60. Perhaps if you know more about the condition and its unpleasantries, you will be more likely to actively prevent it by receiving a vaccine.
Shingles, also called Herpes Zoster, is a painful, blistering skin rash due to the varicella-zoster virus, the very same virus that causes chickenpox. In fact, if you’ve ever had the chickenpox, the virus may lie dormant for many years in nerve cells which are located at the base of the spinal cord. It can resurface as shingles years later. If you have just one person in your family who has shingles, this may increase your risk fourfold and this may put you at risk of developing shingles.
A shingles rash usually appears on one side of the face or body and lasts from 2 to 4 weeks. The first symptom is usually one-sided pain, tingling, or burning. The pain and burning may be severe and is usually present before any rash appears. For most people, red patches on the skin are followed by small blisters. The rash usually appears in a narrow area from the spine around to the front of the belly area or chest. However, it may involve the face, eyes, mouth, and ears. In addition, for about 1 in 5 people, severe pain can continue long after the rash clears up. For 25 to 50 percent of people who get shingles, severe nerve pain can remain for months or years afterward.
Other symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Fever and/or chills
- Difficulty moving some of the muscles in the face
- Drooping eyelid
- Genital lesions
- Hearing loss
- Joint pain
- Loss of eye motion
- Swollen glands (lymph nodes)
- Taste and/or vision problems
Treatment – It’s important to act fast if you notice symptoms
Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication that can fight the shingles virus. The drug will also help reduce pain and complications and shorten the course of the illness. The medications should be started within 24 hours of feeling pain or burning and preferably before the blisters appear.
On January 12, 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a once-daily, extended release treatment for the pain that usually follows the healing of the shingles rash. The name of this product is “Gralise” Tablets which is used for treatment of post-herpetic neuralgia of PHN which is a persistent neuropathic pain condition caused by nerve damage after a shingles or herpes zoster viral infection and afflicts approximately one in five patients diagnosed with shingles in the US.
Anti-inflammatory medicines called corticosteroids may be used to reduce swelling and the risk of continued pain. However, these drugs do not work in all patients.
Other medicines may include:
- Antihistamines to reduce itching
- Pain medicines
- Zostrix, a cream containing capsaicin (an extract of pepper)
Alternative therapies you may want to consider include a cool wet compress to reduce pain. In addition, soothing baths and lotions, such as colloidal oatmeal bath, starch baths, or calamine lotion, may help to relieve itching and discomfort. Resting in bed until the fever goes down is recommended.
The skin should be kept clean, and contaminated items should not be reused. Nondisposable items should be washed in boiling water or otherwise disinfected before reuse. The person may need to be isolated while lesions are oozing to prevent infecting other people who have never had chickenpox, especially pregnant women.
Most importantly, avoid touching the rash and blisters of people with shingles or chickenpox if you have never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine.
You can also be proactive about avoiding this very painful virus. Reduce your risk by 50% and get the vaccine. It also been shown to reduce agonizing chronic nerve pain that sometimes occurs in people who still get shingles after being vaccinated. Sounds promising to us and we’re not alone. The CDC recommends a single dose of shingles vaccine for adults 60 years of age and older as part of routine medical care, even if you’ve had the chicken pox.
Some side effects that may occur are redness, soreness, swelling or itching at the shot site, and/or a headache. In addition, there is no documentation of a person getting chickenpox from someone who has received the shingles vaccine. However, some people who get the shingles vaccine will develop a chickenpox-like rash near the place where they were vaccinated. As a precaution, this rash should be covered until it disappears.
The shingles vaccine does not contain thimerosal (a preservative containing mercury). It is safe to be around infants and young children, pregnant women, or people with weakened immune systems after you get the shingles vaccine.
It’s imperative to discuss your personal health history (like any allergies, compromised immune system concerns or pregnancy) with your clinician prior to making a decision to get the shingles vaccine.
For more information about the shingles vaccine, read the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Vaccination Information Sheet.
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