If you’ve ever had the chickenpox, you know how painful and itchy it can be. And you may think you can’t get the virus again. But did you know that the same virus that causes chickenpox also causes shingles?
Here’s what you need to know:
What causes shingles?
Shingles is a painful skin rash that’s caused by the varicella-zoster virus. When you recover from chickenpox, the virus doesn’t go away. Instead, it “sleeps” in your nerve roots. In some people, the virus stays dormant forever. But in others, the virus “wakes up” when disease, stress or aging weaken your immune system. The virus travels up your nerve roots, which supply feeling to your skin along a pathway on each side of your body. Once the virus is active again, it can only cause shingles, not chickenpox.
After initial pain and itching, shingles can appear as a red rash with blisters. Shingles can also be identified if it appears on only one side of the body.
What are the symptoms and stages shingles?
Shingles symptoms appear in stages. At first, you may get headaches or feel like you have the flu, but without a fever. You may also be sensitive to light, have trouble thinking clearly or feel dizzy and weak.
A few days or even weeks later, an area of your body or face will feel itchy, tingly or painful. This is where a rash will appear. The rash will eventually turn into a cluster of blisters that are filled with fluid.
Who can get it?
Anyone can get shingles, but only if they’ve had chickenpox. It’s most common in adults over 50 years old and people with weak immune systems, but kids can get the virus too.
Is shingles contagious?
There is a small chance that someone with shingles can spread the virus to someone who’s never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine. But if you haven’t had either and you’re exposed to the virus, you can only get chickenpox. Most people who get shingles won’t get it again. But it is possible to get it more than once.
Is there a vaccine that prevents it?
Yes. Shingrix is a vaccine that is more than 90% effective in preventing shingles. And if you do get the virus, this shingles vaccine can reduce the pain and clear the rash up quicker. The Center for Disease Control recommends two doses of Shingrix (separated by 2 to 6 months) for healthy adults 50 years and older.
How is shingles treated?
Antiviral and pain medicine are used to treat the virus. Taking your medicine immediately can help your rash heal faster and be less painful. Avoid contact with people until your blisters crust over. It’s especially important to avoid contact with people who are at risk, like pregnant women and infants. Seek treatment immediately if you think you have shingles. Fortunately, there are convenient options to get treatment:
- Make an in-person or video visit appointment to meet with your preferred primary care doctor or a clinician.
- Start a Virtuwell visit for 24/7 treatment without an appointment. Just answer a few questions, and you’ll get your diagnosis and treatment plan from a board-certified nurse practitioner for $59 or less, depending on your insurance.