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Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 99% of Americans born before 1980 have had chickenpox, placing that age group at an increased risk for shingles as they age. Roughly 10% of people who get shingles will develop nerve pain that can last months or even years.
The Shingles vaccine is available at no charge to any Greene County resident age 60 years or older, thanks to a grant from the Greene County Senior Citizens' Services Fund Board.
The CDC recommends that all adults age 50 years and older receive the two-dose shingles immunization, even if you have had shingles in the past or are unsure if you ever had chickenpox. People ages 50-59, who are interested in the shingles vaccine should contact their healthcare provider.
Frequently asked questions
Shingles is a painful rash that develops on one side of the face or body. The rash consists of blisters that typically scab over in 7 to 10 days and fully clears up within 2 to 4 weeks.
Before the rash appears, people often have pain, itching, or tingling in the area where it will develop. This may happen several days before the rash appears.
Most commonly, the rash occurs in a single stripe around either the left or the right side of the body. In other cases, the rash occurs on one side of the face. Shingles on the face can affect the eye and cause vision loss. In rare cases (usually in people with weakened immune systems), the rash may be more widespread on the body and look similar to a chickenpox rash.
Other symptoms of shingles can include
- Upset stomach
You cannot get shingles from someone who has shingles.
You can get chickenpox from someone who has shingles if you have never had chickenpox or never received the chickenpox vaccine.
Shingles is caused by varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays dormant (inactive) in their body. The virus can reactivate later, causing shingles.
Most people who develop shingles have only one episode during their lifetime. However, you can have shingles more than once.
If you have shingles, direct contact with the fluid from your rash blisters can spread VZV to people who have never had chickenpox or never received the chickenpox vaccine. If they get infected, they will develop chickenpox, not shingles. They could then develop shingles later in life.
The risk of spreading VZV to others is low if you cover the shingles rash. People with shingles cannot spread the virus before their rash blisters appear or after the rash crusts.
People with chickenpox are more likely to spread VZV than people with shingles.
The most common complication of shingles is long-term nerve pain called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).
PHN occurs in the areas where the shingles rash was, even after the rash clears up. It can last for months or years after the rash goes away. The pain from PHN can be so severe and debilitating that it interferes with daily life.
About 10 to 18% of people who get shingles will experience PHN. Your risk of PHN increases with age. An older adult with shingles is more likely to develop PHN and have longer lasting and more severe pain than a younger person with shingles. People younger than 40 rarely experience PHN.
Shingles may lead to serious complications involving the eye, including blindness. Very rarely, it can also lead to:
- hearing problems
- brain inflammation (encephalitis)
Several antiviral medicines—acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir—are available to treat shingles and shorten the length and severity of the illness. These medicines are most effective if you start taking them as soon as possible after the rash appears. If you think you have shingles, contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible to discuss treatment.
Pain medicine, either over-the-counter or a prescription from your doctor, may help relieve the pain caused by shingles. Wet compresses, calamine lotion, and colloidal oatmeal baths (a lukewarm bath mixed with ground up oatmeal) may help relieve itching.