2016-09-01 / OnCall

Preventing Shingles

Victoria Devan, DO

Q: Someone I work with recently got shingles, and after seeing the commercial for the vaccine on TV, I wondered if I might need it. How effective is the vaccine, and who should talk to their doctor about it?

A: Shingles is a painful rash caused by the varicella-zoster virus — the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you have chickenpox, the virus lies inactive within nerve tissue near the spinal cord and brain.

Shingles is most common in older adults — over age 50 — and in people who have weakened immune systems. Although it’s not a life-threatening condition, shingles can be very painful.

The shingles vaccine can help reduce the risk of shingles and is recommended for all adults whether you’ve had chickenpox as a child or not. The vaccine is only for prevention purposes and is not a guarantee that you will not get shingles. However, it will reduce your chances of complications and the severity of the disease. The vaccine is not used to treat people who have shingles.

Shingles usually affects a small area on one side of the body. Other signs and symptoms include: pain, burning, numbness or tingling; sensitivity to touch; a red rash that appears a few days after the pain; fluid-filled blisters that break open and crust over; and itching.

Some may also experience fever, headache, sensitivity to light and fatigue.

If you suspect you have shingles, you should contact your doctor, especially if the pain and rash occur near the eye, if you’re 70 or older, if you or someone in your family has a weakened immune system, or if the rash is widespread and painful.

There is no cure for shingles, but with prompt treatment using prescription antiviral drugs, the severity and duration of a shingles attack can be significantly reduced.

Victoria Devan, DO
Family Medicine, Geisinger Scenery ParkVictoria Devan, DO Family Medicine, Geisinger Scenery Park

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