Almost 1 out of every 3 people in the United States will develop shingles in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, as people age that risk increases. The danger is even more likely for older people who suffer from weakened immune systems, have certain cancers or take medications that affect their ability to fight off infection such as steroids. Older adults who develop shingles can also experience complications such as secondary infections and severe, long-lasting pain that impacts the quality of life. Because the virus that causes shingles is highly contagious, early detection and diagnosis are important to limit the spread of the virus to others. Early intervention can also help prevent complications and shorten the duration of shingles.
What is shingles?
Shingles is a disease that affects the nerves. It causes a painful rash that usually appears on one side of the body. Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus responsible for chickenpox. According to the CDC, the rash consists of blisters that usually clear up within two to four weeks. Anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk of developing shingles later in life because the virus can reactivate later in life and cause the condition. Shingles can also reoccur, after an initial outbreak.
Symptoms of shingles
- Stomach problems
A person with active shingles can spread the varicella zoster virus to others, who have not had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine, and cause them to develop chickenpox and possibly shingles later in life. The fluid from shingles rash blisters is contagious and an active rash should be covered to prevent spread of the virus. Knowing the signs of shingles in its early stages can be difficult because the disease can be mistaken for other conditions such as flu. Doctors are often not able to diagnose shingles until a rash appears on the body. However, some common early signs of shingles are numbness, tingling and burning pain that are centered in one part of the body.
Older people can protect themselves from developing shingles and its complications with vaccination. There are two shingles vaccines: Shingrix and Zostavax. Even if a person has had shingles before, they can receive Shingrix or Zostavax to prevent a reoccurrence of shingles or its complications. The CDC recommends Shingrix for healthy adults 50 and older. Shingrix is given in two doses, two to six months apart. According to the CDC, “In adults 50 to 69 years old who got two doses, Shingrix was 97% effective in preventing shingles; among adults 70 years and older, Shingrix was 91% effective.” Zostavax is recommended for healthy adults age 60 and older. It is given in one dose as an injection and protection lasts about five years. According to the CDC, a study found that Zostavax reduced the risk of shingles by 51 percent.
If you are concerned about shingles or shingles vaccination, contact your medical care provider for more information.