Written by: Clinical Marketing Project Students, Taylor Mills, Rebecca Reeve, Sarah Ruggles, Tonia Hall-Wade
According to the CDC, nearly 1 out of every 3 people in the United States will develop shingles in their lifetime. To put it in a different perspective, there is an estimated one million cases of shingles virus that are reported in the U.S. each year. Due to the frequency of the virus, it is important that people know characteristics of the virus and how to prevent it.
Shingles is a painful rash that occurs on one side of the body or face. It is caused by the presence of the same virus that causes chicken pox. Therefore, anyone that has had chicken pox in the past is at risk for shingles. Once a person recovers from chicken pox, it is alleged that the virus lays dormant within the nervous system. When the varicella-zoster virus reactivates, the virus moves back down the nerve fibers to the skin and leads to the burning rash.
The symptoms that characterize shingles can range from minor irritation to severe pain. Before the rash develops, individuals can experience pain or irritation around the area where the rash will occur. The rash first appears as bumps that are red and inflamed. After a few days, the rash then develops into pustules full of clear fluid. Finally, the rash forms into scabs and disappears after two weeks. However, the rash can leave scars on the skin. In addition to the rash, individuals can develop a condition called post herpetic neuralgia. Post herpetic neuralgia is characterized by severe and debilitating pain in the area where the rash was present. This complication can last from weeks to years.
Shingles usually occurs in those who are over the age of 60, have immunodeficiency disorders such as HIV or AIDS or those who are on medications that weaken the immune system such as steroids. However, there are numerous cases that occur in younger individuals that have had chicken pox in the past. For instance, at the age of sixteen I had the shingles virus. I did not have any immunosuppressive conditions and I was not taking any medications that weakened my immune system. My doctor could not figure out exactly what triggered the varicella virus to reactivate; although, my doctor strongly believed that stress played a big role in weakening my immune system.
Fortunately there are treatment options and preventative measures against the shingles virus. Typically, the virus is treated with antiviral medicines such as acyclovir, valacyclovir and famciclovir which function to decrease the length of the illness.1 Pain medication such as analgesics is also recommended to help relieve pain caused by the virus.
However, there is only one preventative measure against shingles which involves vaccination. The CDC recommends that individuals aged 60 years and older should get the shingles vaccination.
Given that the shingles virus occurs frequently and involves severe pain in some circumstances, it is important for people to be more aware of the virus. If you want to know whether or not you would be a good applicant for the shingles vaccine, contact your local Fruth pharmacy location for more details.
- Updated recommendations for use of VariZIG – United States, 2013. MMWR. 2013;62(28):574-6.