Sidestepping Shingles

By Tyler Jarnagin

Many of us have experienced those horrendously annoying rashes we have come to know as chickenpox. But, what if I told you that may not be the last time you feel the burn of those unsightly blisters? At some point down the road, you or an older loved one may be fighting a second bout, this time in the form of shingles.

WHAT IS SHINGLES?

Shingles is a viral infection indicated by a painful rash on the skin. Shingles can appear anywhere on the body, but it usually takes the form of a single stripe of fluid- filled blisters that wrap around either the left or right side of the torso. It affects about one-in-three people in the United States at some point in their life, and there are more than one million cases of shingles diagnosed every year, according to the Cleveland Clinic. While shingles is not deadly, it can be extremely painful and may take more than a month for the sores to scab over and fully heal.

WHO IS AT RISK?

A person can only get shingles after an initial infection of chickenpox, by way of the varicella zoster virus (VZV). After chickenpox heals, the virus may enter the nervous system where it can lie dormant for decades. For many, this is where the story ends, the virus stays at the nerve ends and does no harm. For the less fortunate, the virus reactivates and shoots up the nerves to form those dreadful rashes.

“The virus that causes shingles can spread from someone with active shingles to cause chickenpox in those who have never received the chickenpox vaccine or never had chickenpox, but shingles cannot pass from one person to another,” said Dr. Gary Wang, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at UF Health.

Shingles develops in about 10 percent of people who have had chickenpox. It most commonly occurs in older age groups, such as grandparents, and in people with weakened immune systems. is includes people suffering from diseases that weaken the immune system, people undergoing cancer treatment and people taking certain medications that affect the immune system, according to the Mayo Clinic. Increased stress levels also play a role in developing shingles.

PROTECTING CHILDREN

Grandparents who have shingles are strongly encouraged to avoid children until healed, if possible, especially if the children have not received a chickenpox vaccine. Young children are at greater risk because of their developing immune systems. And remember, exposing children to an open shingles sore may put them at risk for not only chickenpox, but also shingles when they get older.

“Someone who has shingles should take precautions to prevent the spread of the virus,” Dr. Wang said. “ e risk of spreading it is low if active lesions are covered. Therefore, they should cover the active lesions, avoid touching or scratching the lesions, wash hands frequently to prevent spreading, and avoid contact with those who have not been vaccinated, those who had no history of chickenpox and those with weakened immune system.”

PREVENTING SHINGLES

Dr. Wang asserts that the best way to prevent shingles is getting a shingles vaccine. ere are two shingles vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – Zostavax and Shingrix. Zostavax was approved in 2006 and is recommended for people age 60 and older. Shingrix was approved in 2017 for people age 50 and older and is now the preferred vaccination, according to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). Shingrix is also recommended for those who previously received Zostavax.

Shingles vaccines are intended only as a preventative measure and not as treatment, but the good news for grandparents is that it’s safe to be around infants and pregnant women after receiving a shingles vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By taking a little initiative, you may avoid missing out on family time!

*We encourage you to visit your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about chickenpox or shingles.