Shingles is an infection most likely to strike the older population. It is caused by the chickenpox virus and can infect those who have previously been affected with chickenpox. Shingles is painful and usually attacks the trunk of the body. While shingles itself is not contagious, the virus can be passed on as chickenpox to someone who has not had the disease.
What are Shingles?
Shingles is a painful infection caused by a virus that attacks the nerve roots. Shingles will attack the left side or the right side of the body and most commonly appears as a rash. Once infected, most people will get better and not get it again.
The cause of shingles is the herpes zoster virus, which is the chickenpox virus. If you have ever had chickenpox, you may develop shingles. Not all people who have had chickenpox develop shingles. After developing chickenpox, the virus enters the nervous system where it may lie dormant for many years. Then, for reasons which are unknown, it may reappear in the form of shingles. It is thought to be triggered by something such as stress, a weakened immune system or when disease occurs.
Shingles may begin with flu-like symptoms, general achiness, headache or sensitivity to light. It then appears as rash, which is in a band or a strip that most often starts in the middle of the backbone and wraps itself around one side of the body to the chest. It does not attack both sides of the body. The rash is painful and itches. It turns into blisters that fill with fluid, break and then form a crust. It can be two to four weeks before the blisters disappear. There is also the possibility that the blisters may cause scaring.
Am I Contagious?
While you cannot pass shingles on to someone else, you can pass on the herpes zoster virus (chickenpox) to someone who has never had it Avoid any direct contact with high-risk individuals, such as pregnant women, children and those with weakened immune systems, while seeping blisters are evident. You are contagious until blisters have scabbed over.
You can take a step to prevent shingles if you are an older adult, 60 plus, who has had chickenpox and is at risk for developing the infection. It is a vaccine that can be given by your physician to eliminate or lessen the severity of the infection. Contact your family doctor to discuss this vaccine.
If you think you may have shingles, contact your health care professional. She can prescribe treatment that will lessen the pain, help healing and prevent complications. Be sure to take the medications as prescribed and keep sores clean. The earlier treatment is begun, the better the outcome.