Do You Know Your Risk for Shingles?
The Risk: 98% of adults in the United States have been infected with the chickenpox virus and are therefore at risk for shingles.
Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. Once a person has had chickenpox, the virus can live, but remain inactive, in certain nerve roots within your body for many years. If it becomes active again, usually later in life, it can cause shingles. The risk for shingles increases as you get older. Shingles can affect anyone who has had chickenpox at any time, without warning. There's no way to tell who will get shingles or when it may occur.
Your body can't defend itself against the virus that causes shingles as well as it could when you were younger.
About 1/2 of the nearly 1 million shingles cases in the United States each year occur in people 60 years and older.
1 out of 2 people who live to age 85 will have shingles.
The older you get, the longer the shingles rash may last.
The older you get, the more you're at risk for long-term nerve pain. Long-term nerve pain hurts more and lasts longer in older adults.
About Shingles: Shingles can be painful and can cause serious problems.
The first signs of shingles are often felt and may not be seen. These can include itching, tingling, and burning. A few days later a rash of fluid-filled blisters appears (usually on one side of the body or face). The blisters may take 2 to 4 weeks to heal.
For most people, the pain from the shingles rash lessens as it heals. After the rash heals, however, shingles may lead to pain that lasts for months or even years in some people. This long-term nerve pain, called postherpetic neuralgia (or PHN) occurs because the virus that causes shingles may damage certain nerves.
The pain can vary and may present as:
Burning and throbbing
Stabbing and shooting
For many people with long-term nerve pain, even the touch of soft clothing against the skin can be painful.
Other serious problems that may result from shingles include skin infection, muscle weakness, scarring, and decrease or loss of vision or hearing.
Get Vaccinated Against Shingles
The shingles vaccine, Zostavax, is available to anyone 50+ years of age. Zostavax works by helping your immune system protect you from shingles. It does require a prescription from your doctor. Most Part D prescription plans will pay for some portion of the vaccine and most Federal employees and Tricare beneficiaries 60 years and older can receive the vaccine at no charge. Contact your local Kerr Drug pharmacist for details.
Zostavax cannot be used to treat shingles or the nerve pain that may follow shingles once you have it so don't put it off!