Shingles is caused by the same virus as chicken pox; the varicella zoster virus. Shingles causes intense pain, burning or tingling on the skin and then painful red rashes over the body or face. This rash may develop into itchy fluid blisters. It is only possible to contract shingles if you have had chickenpox previously.
If you have never had chickenpox and come into contact with this virus, you will not develop shingles – just chickenpox, only usually worse than what appears in children. Once you have had chickenpox, the virus then stays dormant in your system unless you develop shingles – which is the reactivation of the illness.
Shingles rash and symptoms may occur in just one side of the body or face. This is because the dormant virus manifests itself in the base of the spinal cord and may affect just some nerves.
The two images below show the difference between chickenpox rash and shingles rash:
70% of shingles cases in Australia occur in people over 50 years old and incidences increase with age. About 7 out of 1000 people between the ages of 50-59 will develop shingles, and this increases to 14 out of 1000 in those over 70.
You may think shingles is just a surface virus that causes irritation and discomfort, however the pain can be severe and further complications can occur. In some cases, shingles may cause nerve pain after the rash has disappeared, if this lasts for at least three months it is known as postherpectic neuralgia. Other complications can include bacterial infections, damage to facial nerves that affect the senses such as hearing, dizziness, and eyesight.
So while not that common, the answer is yes, shingles is still around and your age and medical history have a part to play in your risk of contracting the disease. If you are over the age of 60, you should consider getting the vaccination to decrease the risk of shingles occurring. For Australian’s over the age of 70, this vaccine is free under the vaccination program. It is recommended that even if you do not remember having chickenpox in your life, that you still receive the vaccination.
The vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of contracting shingles by 53% and may reduce the severity if you do happen to still develop the illness. It also reduces the risk of complications caused by shingles.
If you are over the age of 60 or in a high risk group please speak to one of our doctors about getting vaccinated against the shingles virus. If you have reason to believe you may have shingles, speak to your doctor immediately in order to get treatment and prevent complications.
Banner Image Credit: James Heilman, MD (Wikimedia Commons)