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Chickenpox virus is not just a kidís concern
Chickenpox virus is not just a kidís concern Many of us never give the chickenpox a second thought, unless we are exposed to the virus by a child or relative who has it. In that case, it is probably the topic of conversationÖwhere or who they contracted it from, the extent of the blisters, the itching, and the overall general miserable feeling associated with it. However, most people do not consider the chickenpox virus as a risk factor for another disease, shingles. In fact the two primary risk factors for contracting shingles are 1) having had the chickenpox virus and 2) age.

Maybe you had chickenpox as a child, or as I did, as a teenager. Maybe you canít remember, but if you did have the virus, you now have the number one risk factor for shingles. This is because the virus that caused chickenpox travels down the nerves where it remains dormant. It can then emerge many years later to develop shingles.

Age is a factor
Of the one million cases of shingles each year, approximately half of those occur in people aged 60 or older. As we age, our bodies cannot defend ourselves against the virus as well as it did when we were younger. Actually, one out of two people who live to age 85 will have shingles. Nevertheless, shingles can affect anyone who has had chickenpox, at anytime, and without warning.

The first signs and symptoms of shingles may be non-specific. Shingles start as a tingling or burning sensation usually on a specific area of the body. The tingling progresses to a painful region followed by a rash of fluid-filled blisters. These blisters are not the same as those that are experienced with chickenpox, which are generally widespread, diffuse small pustules. Shingles blisters are typically clustered in one area, on one side of the body.

Typically, the pain associated with shingles subsides as the rash disappears Ė over the course of a few weeks. However, for some people, the pain continues even after the blisters have resolved. This pain is referred to as post-herpetic neuralgia or PHN. The older you are when you contract shingles, the greater your risk for encountering the long-term pain of PHN. PHN can last for months or even years. For many with PHN, the pain may be so great that soft fabric clothing or even exposure to air may cause extreme pain.

If shingles are suspected, or even after the blisters have appeared, your physician can prescribe an anti-viral drug (acyclovir, famcyclovir and valacyclovir are most common) to help lessen the severity and complications. He/she may also recommend prescription or over-the-counter analgesics to treat the pain.

There is good news. A vaccine is now available for the prevention of shingles. The vaccine, which was released last year, is a single, subcutaneous injection, which is indicated for those 60 or older who have had chickenpox. Ask your health care provider if you are a candidate for this vaccine.

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"Chickenpox virus is not just a kidís concern"
   authored by:
Tamara Dulin, R.Ph., is a registered pharmacist with Nightingale Home Health Care in Carmel, Indiana. A 1991 graduate of Butler University College of Pharmacy, she has spent the majority of her career in consulting. She is a past president of the Ind...

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