What is the Shingles Virus?

The herpes zoster virus, also known as the shingles virus, is the same virus that causes the chickenpox.  If you’ve had Chickenpox, and that’s over 90% of adults in Canada, the virus   stays hidden in the nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain.   However, as we age our immune system naturally weakens.  As a result, the shingles virus may reactivate, increasing the risk of developing Shingles.

What are the symptoms of Shingles?

Shingles virusShingles can result in a painful and blistering rash that can last several weeks. Common sites for the rash include the chest, back, buttocks, neck, and sometimes the face or scalp. Sometimes the rash occurs around one eye or on one side of the neck or face.

Pain is usually the first symptom of Shingles. For some people, the pain can be intense. Other symptoms may include:

  • Burning, numbness or tingling
  • Itching
  • Fever and chills
  • General achiness
  • Headache
  • Fatigue

Serious complications from Shingles can include vision, hearing, and neurological problems including balance disorders and potentially permanent neuralgia (nerve pain).

How can I get Shingles?

If you have had the Chickenpox, you are at risk of getting Shingles. Most people who get Shingles are over age 50, but Shingles can happen at any age, particularly when disease or stress weakens the immune system.

You may be at increased risk of developing Shingles if you:

  • Have a disease that weakens your immune system, such as HIV/AIDS or some types of cancer.
  • Are undergoing radiation or chemotherapy.
  • Take anti-rejection drugs.
  • Have been using steroids such as prednisone for an extended period.

Is there a vaccine available for Shingles?

Yes, there is a new vaccine called Shingrix®  which is the best way you can protect yourself from Shingles. The vaccine is over 90% effective at preventing shingles for people 50 years of age and older.

How many shots will I need?

You will need two  doses of Shingrix® with a gap of 2 to 6 months between doses.

What is the treatment for Shingles?

Early treatment can help shorten a Shingles infection and lessen the chance of complications. If you think you have Shingles, see a doctor as soon as possible. Antiviral medicines can help speed healing and reduce your risk of complications, but they work best if started within three days after the rash appears.

Talk with your doctor or pharmacist about using over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen. If your pain is very severe, your doctor may prescribe other types of pain medication.

You may be able to relieve the itching and pain by:

  • Using cool, wet compresses.
  • Applying calamine lotion to the blisters.
  • Taking a cool bath with cornstarch or oatmeal.

If Shingles blisters aren’t properly treated, bacterial skin infections may develop. Keep your rash dry and clean.

Shingles cannot be transmitted from person to person. However, if someone who hasn’t had Chickenpox or the Varicella vaccination has direct contact with a Shingles rash, there is a small chance that person can become infected with Chickenpox.

Find out more information on this illness from our Vancouver Travel Clinic or any of our other 18 Travel Clinic locations.