Shingles, also known by the medical community as herpes zoster, is an excruciating painful skin rash that blisters and burns. The virus affects over 1 million Americans each year, mostly seniors.
Shingles are caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. Although the symptoms may be gone, the chickenpox virus that most of us catch as children never leaves the body. Like other forms of the herpes virus, it hides in our nerve cells. In the case of herpes zoster, it remains dormant in the nerve cells close to the spinal cord and re-emerges in the form of shingles.
Although anyone who’s had the chickenpox can come down with shingles, it’s most common in people ages 60 and older. Anyone with a weakened immune system may also be susceptible. The good news is that it’s not contagious, so you won’t catch it from someone else with the shingles.
The most common signs of the disease are pain and itching just prior to a blistering rash that appears 2-4 days later. The rash usually lasts a couple of weeks, but can last up to a month. The good news is that the rash is usually isolated to just one side of the body. Most people experience a band of blisters from the middle of their back around to the breastbone. Other common locations include the side of the face or neck, or above an eye.
The rash may not be the only symptom. More than 30 percent of people with shingles experience pain lasting for months or even years.
Shingles Vaccination Coverage
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone ages 60 and up get the Zostavax shingles vaccination. For more information, see zostavax.com or call (877) 974-4645 to locate a vaccine provider in your area.
Be aware that the shingles vaccine is not covered by Original Medicare. Most Medicare Part D (prescription drug) Plans cover all commercially available vaccines needed to prevent illness.
How Do You Treat Shingles?
There’s no cure for shingles. The best treatment is a prompt response with a dosage of prescription antiviral drugs. This will speed the healing process and reduce the risk of potential complications. The most common antiviral medications include:
These medications include:
- Acyclovir (Zovirax)
- Valacyclovir (Valtrex)
- Famciclovir (Famvir)
As previously mentioned, shingles often causes severe pain. To relieve the pain your doctor may also prescribe one or more effective pain treatments.