The Danger of Shingles

Shingles is a skin disease resulting in blisters, tingling, and an itchy rash on your body and is more common than you may think! Roughly fifty percent of all Americans will have shingles by the time they are 80 years old.  Shingles is caused by the Chickenpox Virus (Varicella Zoster), which stays dormant in the body after the chickenpox has disappeared.  For reasons that are not fully understood, the chickenpox virus can reactivate, causing the skin disease called shingles.

Shingles and Your Health

Shingles is not contagious only if you have had chickenpox. If you have been recently exposed to the chickenpox virus, you should avoid contact with anyone who has shingles as the fluid from their open blisters is infectious. Once the blisters have scabbed over, they are no longer contagious.

If you come in contact with someone with shingles, there is a risk you could contract chickenpox.  If this happens and you have not had chickenpox, seek advice from your family practitioner on how to minimize the risk of infection.

Unfortunately, as you age the chance of getting shingles increases.  While shingles is not contagious to people that have had chickenpox, aging naturally causes our immune system to decline and the risk of the virus reactivating increases. Men and women over 60 account for 50% of all shingles cases.

Even after the rash clears up, which on average takes 3 to 5 weeks, you still run a higher risk of complications such as postherpetic neuralgia, which is severe and debilitating pain in the areas where the shingles rash existed. This can last for weeks, months, or years, making even day-to-day activities difficult. Bacterial infection from the open sores can lead to scarring. In a very small number of cases shingles bacteria can cause more serious conditions, including toxic shock syndrome and necrotizing fasciitis, infections that destroy the soft tissues under the skin. In patients with immune deficiencies, the rash may be more extensive than usual and can result in pneumonia.  These instances are more serious, but rarely fatal. Outbreaks that start around the face or eyes may also lead to permanent vision or hearing issues.  Permanent blindness can also result if the cornea of the eye is affected.

It is recommended for anyone over the age of 60 that does not have a compromised immune system to get the shingles vaccine. Vaccination could be the difference between enjoying life and happiness, and dealing with debilitating pain.  The risk for postherpetic neuralgia can be decreased significantly with the vaccine.

Shingles is not permanent, and if you are in good health it should go away without complications.  Once you have had shingles it is unlikely you will ever get it again.