Q.What are the symptoms of shingles?
A. Quick Answer
Shingles is a viral infection that affects a small portion of the body, resulting in pain, burning and numbness, followed by the appearance of a red rash after a few days.
- Full Answer
The infection is due to the zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chicken pox. In order to develop shingles, the individual must have had chicken pox in the past. Once the body recovers from chicken pox, the virus remains dormant in the nerves, often for years. In many people, it never reactivates.
There is no cure for shingles but available medications help to reduce the length of the outbreak, especially if the individual takes them quickly after onset. Without medication, the pain of shingles can last for months and sometimes years. Doctors recommend a vaccine for individuals over age 60. In certain instances, the patient's doctor recommends the vaccine for individuals between 50 and 59.
When suffering from shingles, a cold compress or a cold shower helps to relieve the pain and itching of the blisters. Doctors offer prescription medication, including tricyclic antidepressants, numbing agents and narcotic pain medication to reduce the severe pain.
The rash eventually forms blisters that break open and itch. Some individuals also experience chills and fever, headaches and general achiness. The rash forms blisters that typically scab over in 7 to 10 days and clear up within 2 to 4 weeks.
A. Quick Answer
Shingles symptoms generally begin as pain, numbness or burning on one side of the sufferer's body. Pain is sometimes intense before the rash or blisters form. The rash eventually forms blisters that break open and itch. Some individuals also experience chills and fever, headaches and general achiness.
A. Full Answer
The rash usually takes several days to appear after the pain begins. The pain is severe, and sufferers sometimes mistake it for lung, heart or kidney problems. The rash usually appears as stripes that wrap around the patient's torso. The blisters that form usually crust over in a few days and flake away without leaving any scars. The rash sometimes appears on the sufferer's face. If it is near the eye, the patient should seek medical attention, as it can cause blindness.
If you suspect an outbreak of shingles, see a doctor immediately. It is a viral condition, and antiviral medications are available that help to reduce symptoms. For best relief, the patient should take these medications as early as possible in the outbreak. The medication helps to reduce the length and severity of the illness.
Q. Is Shingles Contagious?
The varicella zoster virus can only spread to a person who has never had chickenpox. If the virus infects a person, he develops chickenpox and not shingles. Once the body heals from the chickenpox, the virus remains dormant. Anyone who has had chickenpox has the potential to develop shingles; however, most with the condition are age 50 or older.
The risk for developing shingles increases with age. Disease, a weakened immune system or medications that depress the immune system, increase the chances of developing the disease.
A person typically only has shingles once in a lifetime, although in rare instances, it is possible to have the disease two or three times.
For readers interested in the PDF version, the document is available for downloading or viewing:
Statement on the Recommended Use of Herpes Zoster Vaccine (PDF document - 320 KB - 19 pages)Volume 36 • ACS-January 2010
What a shingles rash looks like. (Photo courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Q. How can I protect myself from Shingles?
A. Quick Answer
The risk of getting Shingles increases with age. There is a vaccine called Zostavax which helps to prevent Shingles, and is offered after age 50. However, it is non-formulary drug which means a cost of $230.00 (as of November 14, 2016) to you in Saskatchewan.
You can call the Public Health Services International Travel Centre at 108-407 Ludlow St., Saskatoon for an appointment. Doctor’s prescription NOT needed. Call 306-655-4780.