According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 out of every 3 people in the United States will develop shingles, also known as herpes zoster, in their lifetime. An estimated 1 million people in the country get shingles each year. Children can get shingles, although your risk increases as you get older. You can get shingles even if you previously had chickenpox, and it's possible to get shingles more than once.
Those at highest risk include individuals who have immunocompromising conditions such as certain cancers and HIV, and individuals who take drugs that affect their immune systems, such as steroids or organ transplantation rejection drugs.
Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), which also causes chickenpox. People who have had chickenpox can get shingles when VZV reactivates in their bodies after a period of dormancy.
People who have not had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine can contract VZV through direct contact with blister fluid from an individual with shingles. However, they will only develop chickenpox, not shingles. The spread of infection can be prevented by covering rash/blisters, avoiding touching the rash until it crusts over and washing hands often.
In summary, you cannot get shingles from someone who has shingles, but you can get chickenpox from someone who has shingles if you never had chicken pox.
Shingles symptoms include a painful rash that blisters and scabs over in 7 – 10 days and can take up to 4 weeks to heal. Up to 5 days before the rash appears, an infected person may experience pain or itching in that area, and it usually shows up as a single stripe on the left or right side of the body. Sometimes the rash can appear on the face or along a nerve path, but most commonly on the chest and abdomen. Other symptoms include fever, headache and generally feeling ill.
The most common complication from shingles is severe long-term nerve pain called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). PHN can last for months or years after the shingles rash goes away, and risk of PHN increases with age. Other complications include blindness, pneumonia, hearing problems, brain inflammation or even death.
Shingles can be treated with anti-viral medicines, pain medicine, calamine lotion and colloidal oatmeal baths.
The CDC recommends 2 doses of the latest recombinant zoster vaccine, also called RZV or Shingrix, to prevent shingles in adults 50 years and older. The doses should be given 2 – 6 months apart. The vaccine is also now recommended for adults 19 years and older who have a weakened immune system.
The shingles vaccine is the only way to protect against shingles. It is also recommended for anyone who is immunocompromised and has received the Zostavax vaccine at least 2 months prior.
Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist about the shingles vaccination.
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