5 Things You May Not Know About Shingles

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Shingles can be a serious problem for seniors, and the illness is much more common than most people think. About half of all cases of shingles occur in men and women 60 years of age or older.

So what is shingles?

Shingles causes a painful, blistering skin rash that most commonly occurs in a single stripe around either the left or the right side of the body. The rash can also occur on one side of the face, sometimes affecting the eye and causing loss of vision.

Here are five things you might not know about shingles:

  1. Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox.
    Although both diseases are caused by the same virus, they are not the same. Chickenpox is usually a milder illness and affects mostly children. Shingles results from a reactivation of the virus long after the chickenpox illness has disappeared. It is not known exactly why the virus gets reactivated in people who develop shingles, but it typically occurs in times of stress or trauma or in people who have a weakened immune system. Shingles is not contagious; however, a person with shingles can spread the virus to someone who has not had chickenpox. Put simply, someone with shingles might give someone chickenpox if that person has never had chickenpox. 
  2. Shingles is actually fairly common.
    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost one out of every three people in the U.S. will develop shingles in their lifetime, and there are an estimated one million cases of shingles every year in the country. Anyone who has recovered from chickenpox may develop shingles, but the risk increases as we get older. About half of all cases occur in men and women 60 years of age and older. 
  3. A person can get shingles more than once.
    People who develop shingles typically have only one episode in their lifetime, but it is possible for a person to have a recurrence of the illness, or even multiple recurrences. 
  4. The biggest problem related to shingles is NOT the rash.
    The rash that develops is a defining symptom of shingles, but pain is also a very common symptom and does not always go away when the rash does. This pain is sometimes severe and has been described as excruciating, aching, burning, stabbing and shock-like. The pain associated with shingles may begin a few days before the rash appears and, in some cases, last up to a year or more after the rash has healed. This pain that lasts after the rash has healed is called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). Other complications such as blindness, loss of hearing, pneumonia and brain inflammation can also occur, but these are rare. 
  5. There is a safe, effective vaccine available to help prevent shingles.
    The shingles vaccine has been used since 2006 and reduces the risk of developing shingles by 51 percent. It also reduces the risk of developing PHN by 67 percent. The CDC recommends the shingles vaccine for adults 60 years of age and older. There is no maximum age for receiving the vaccine, and a person can receive it even if they have already had shingles.

If you suspect that you have shingles, begin to experience extreme pain or have PHN, you should seek medical attention. You should also talk to your healthcare provider to see if the shingles vaccine is right for you. Need a primary care provider? Click here to find one near you.

About Dr. Kyle Dean

R. Kyle DeanKyle Dean, MD is a lifelong resident of the Greenwell Springs area. Dr. Dean graduated from Louisiana State University Medical School in New Orleans in 1994. He then completed a Family Practice Residency at the Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon, GA in 1997. Dr. Dean is Board Certified in Family Medicine and has been in private practice in Baton Rouge since 1997. Dr. Dean is a Fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Dr. Dean practices at Our Lady of the Lake Physician Group North Point. Click here to schedule an appointment with him, or call (225) 924-9985.

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