Millions of Americans each year suffer from shingles. It is a virus which comes from the same virus which caused chickenpox in most of us during our youth. Those who have experienced chickenpox are prone to shingles. It affects the nerve endings in the skin, and can appear in the form of a blistering rash anywhere on the body, but usually on the skin of the abdomen underneath the ribs leading towards the navel. Other commonly affected areas include the vagina, the insides of the mouth and in severe cases the eyes. Once chickenpox subsides, it never leaves the body; it lies dormant in the spinal cord and nerve ganglia for years until activated due to ageing, lowered immunity, stress, cancer, use of anticancer drugs, radiation, a spinal cord injury, or an infection such as HIV.

An attack of shingles is often preceded by three to four days of chills, fever, nausea, stomach discomfort and flu-like symptoms. There may be pain in the affected area. Then comes the tiny fluid-filled blisters surrounded by a red rim. The affected area becomes excruciatingly painful and sensitive to the touch. Other symptoms can include numbness, fatigue, tingling, shooting pains, swollen painful lymph nodes, depression and headache. This phase of shingles lasts seven to fourteen days. The blisters eventually dry up and scarring can occur. Caution should be exercised because the blisters contain a virus that is contagious when physical contact is made.

The issue with shingles is that it often mimics other conditions such as the flu, poison ivy or scabies. More severe cases may last longer than fourteen days and require aggressive treatment. In some cases, the pain lingers for months after the rash has subsided. This form of shingles is called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). It is 50 % more likely to occur in older adults who have previously had shingles. PHN is more difficult to treat because of the acute pain which can be debilitating. The skin of people with PHN, become so sensitive that they cannot tolerate wearing clothes or experiencing a slight breeze on the affected area. Living with this type of severe pain can lead to depression and isolation.  PHN is very individualized; therefore treatment may vary because what works for you may not work for another person.

Self-care you can try until you see a doctor:
Soak blisters with cool, wet compresses
Wash blisters gently, but do not bandage
Apply a lubricating crème/ointment
Take over the counter pain reliever or analgesic crème

Contact doctor or emergency clinic right away if:
  • The pain and rash occur near your eyes – can cause permanent eye damage
  • You or someone in your environment has a weakened immune system
  • The rash is widespread and painful
  • A pregnant woman lives in your environment or someone has a chronic medical condition

Shingles Vaccine
Like most vaccines, the shingles vaccine contains a weakened form of the varicella-zoster virus. Introducing it into the body stimulates an immune system response that will hopefully encourage it to fight off the virus in the event that it ever flares up again. Current statistics estimate that this vaccine is about 50% effective at preventing new shingles breakouts.

The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 60 should get the vaccine.

People with gelatin allergies shouldn’t receive the shingles vaccine because it is a primary component, and those receiving cancer treatments such as chemotherapy.  Additionally, people suffering from HIV, AIDS, or any other immune system disorder should avoid it as well.