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Shingles: The Chickenpox Virus Strikes Again

Questions and answers about Shingles

What causes Shingles?

When a person has chickenpox, the virus (herpes zoster) never leaves the body. It simply retreats into the nerve roots where it usually lies dormant and causes no further problems (often forever).

But for about 1 in 10 (about 1 million Americans each year), the virus becomes active later in life and begins to reproduce and travel along the nerves until they reach the skin. We refer to the resulting pain and rash as Shingles.

Is there a vaccine for the chickenpox virus?

Yes, there is a chickenpox vaccine that is around 85% effective at preventing the recipient from getting either chickenpox or Shingles.

Is shingles contagious?

Shingles itself is not contagious - a person with Shingles cannot give it to another person. But someone with Shingles can pass the chickenpox virus to someone else who has never had it or been vaccinated against it.

In a nutshell, a person with Shingles can give another person chickenpox, but not shingles.

Who is at greatest risk of getting Shingles?

Only people who have had chickenpox in the past can get Shingles. Most cases of Shingles occur in people 60 years of age and older, but younger people can and do get it.

Stress and a weakened immune system seem to be the leading causes of the development of Shingles.

What are the symptoms of Shingles?

Shingles causes pain in the affected area of the body. This pain can be severe and last for several weeks. An unpleasant itchy rash typically covers a relatively small area of the body, and only on one side. It usually lasts a couple of weeks.

The pain usually develops a few days before the rash, making it difficult to distinguish Shingles from other, more common ailments.

It's is very important to see your doctor immediately after you first notice the pain because the medications used to treat Shingles are most effective if taken within 48 hours.

What treatment options are available?

Anti-viral medications are available that can stop the reproduction of the chickenpox virus and shorten the length of the Shingles outbreak.

The usual pain relieving medications are often ineffective for Shingles pain, but there are prescription pain relievers that can help somewhat.

The discomfort associated with the rash can be relieved with creams containing capsaicin or allergy relief ingredients.

Is there a cure for Shingles?

At the present time there is no cure for Shingles. The herpes zoster virus remains in the nerve roots forever so additional Shingles outbreaks can occur at any time.

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