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Prevention for shingles
Prevention for shingles Maybe you had chickenpox as a child, or as a teenager. Maybe you had it later in life. However, if you did, you are now considered to have the number one risk factor for shingles.

Many of us don't think about chickenpox unless we are close to a child or relative who has recently had it. In that case, it was probably the topic of conversation (where or who they contracted it from, the extent of the blisters, the itching, and the overall general miserable feeling associated with it). However, people don't consider it a risk factor for another disease, shingles. In fact, the two primary risk factors for 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 had it later in life. Maybe you can't remember…however, if you did, you are now considered to have the number one risk factor for shingles. The virus that caused chickenpox travels down the nerves where it remains dormant. It can then emerge many years later to cause shingles.

Of the one million cases of shingles each year, approximately half occur in people aged sixty or older. As we age, our bodies cannot defend against the virus as well as it could when we were younger. Actually, one of two people who live to age eighty-five will have had shingles. Nevertheless, shingles can affect anyone who has had chickenpox, at anytime, without warning.

The first signs and symptoms of shingles may be non-specific. Shingles may start as a tingling or burning sensation usually on a specific area of the body. The tingling usually 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, where they are usually 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 – 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 have shingles, the greater your risk for 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, in fact, shingles are suspected, or even after the blisters have appeared, your physician can prescribe an anti-viral drug (acyclovir, famcyclovir and valacyclovir are the most common) to help lessen the severity and complications associated with it. He/she may also recommend prescription or over-the-counter analgesics to treat the pain. So, call your physician as soon as possible if you believe that you may have shingles.

The good news is you can now ask your healthcare provider about the vaccine for the prevention of shingles. The vaccine, which was released in 2006, is a single, subcutaneous injection, which is indicated for those fifty or older who have had chickenpox at some point in their lives. The vaccine, named Zostavax, greatly reduces the risk of shingles.

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"Prevention for shingles"
   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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