The Facts about Shingles

Shingles

It’s a painful rash disease that many people are at risk of developing – especially as they age. Shingles, also called herpes zoster, can also lead to severe nerve pain called postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN. People can suffer for months or years with PHN.

Shingles are caused by the varicella-zoster virus — the same virus that causes chickenpox. People who have had chickenpox should be aware that they are at risk for shingles. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that people age 50 or older get a shingles vaccine called Shingrix. If you have any concerns or are interested in receiving the vaccine, talk to your primary care provider.

The numbers of people who experience shingles every year is staggering – an estimated 1 million people annually.

There are some key facts you should know about shingles:

  • You can’t spread shingles to another person. But the virus itself is contagious. If you have shingles, you can spread the virus to others if they don’t have immunity against it. If they are infected, they will get chickenpox, not shingles.
  • Even if you had chickenpox in the past, you can get shingles. If you’ve had chickenpox, the virus is dormant in your body and can be reactivated.
  • You can get shingles more than once in your life. Vaccination can help prevent future outbreaks.

Shingles usually develop on one side of the face or body and consist of blisters that scab over a week or 10 days. The rash is usually gone within 2 weeks to a month.

If you have shingles, you may first start to have pain, itching or tingling before a rash emerges. Usually, you’ll start to see a single stripe of rash around one side of your body or face. You may also have a fever, headache, chills and/or an upset stomach.

If you develop shingles, you should cover your rash and avoid touching or scratching the rash. You should also wash your hands often to prevent the spread of the virus. As difficult as it may be, avoid contact with the following people until your rash has developed a crust:

  • Pregnant women who have never had chickenpox or the vaccine
  • Premature or low birth weight infants
  • People with weakened immune systems, such as those undergoing chemotherapy, organ transplant recipients or people with HIV.

Shingles in most cases last about 3 to 5 weeks. The first sign of the virus is often a burning or tingling pain, or numbness or itching on one side of the body.

About 1 to 5 days after that tingling or numbness begins, a red rash will appear. A few days after that, the rash turns into fluid-filled blisters. After about 10 days, the blisters should dry out and crust, or scab. Within a few more weeks, the scabs should be gone.

The National Institute on Aging suggests some tips that may help a person feel better when they have shingles. If you develop shingles, get rest and eat well-balanced meals. You can apply a cool washcloth to your blisters to ease the pain and help dry out the blisters. Try to avoid stress, which can increase pain. Wear loose-fitting clothing. An oatmeal bath or calamine lotion to soothe the skin.