Shingles (also known as herpes zoster) is a very common illness in elderly people and individuals with immune system deficiencies. You will usually find that those who are infected with shingles are over the age of 50. People who have has chickenpox and now have AIDS, diabetes, HIV or are receiving chemotherapy are at high risk when developing shingles. Many don't survive shingles because their immune system is very weak and is unable to fight their current illness along with the shingles.
Can Young People get Shingles?
Yes. It is very possible for younger folks to contract shingles after having the chickenpox virus. Babies that are born from a mother who had maternal chickenpox (chickenpox while pregnant or at birth) are likely to get shingles within the first five years of life. Many times the infant won't survive the chickenpox that they obtain at birth or a few days after birth - even though the mother's body transmits antibodies to the baby. If the mother had the chickenpox right at birth, then her body may not have enough time to transmit enough antibodies to help the baby fight the illness.
How do I know If I have Shingles?
It's always a great idea to consult with a physician for accurate diagnoses, but there are some symptoms to watch out for when deciding whether or not to go to the doctor. Some of the symptoms to watch out for include the following:
- Itchy, burning or painful skin irritations
- One side of the face becomes numb
- Rashes and blisters
- Stomach aches
If you have any combination of the above signs, it is a great idea to consult with a physician. It is always better if you go within the first 72 hours of getting the symptoms for better treatments. Diagnosis usually involves scraping of the skin (gently done) and blood tests.
Is there a cure for Shingles?
At this time, there is no cure for shingles, only treatments to help the pain. It is always recommended that children get the chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster virus or VZV) vaccine at an early age to prevent from getting it. Shingles is developed later on in life after having the chickenpox, so if guarded against VZV, shingles will be less of a worry later on. If you have never had the chickenpox, it is important to stay away from people who have or had chickenpox or shingles. The virus can be transmitted to you and you can then develop chickenpox.
How severe is Shingles?
When developing shingles, you will notice lesions on the skin, such as rashes and blisters. Sometimes these will go away after three to five weeks without leaving any traces or scars. It may seem like no big deal, but there are complications that can develop as result to shingles. Some people will notice pain is still there in the areas where the skin lesions used to be. When it lasts for a very long time, this pain is called Postherpetic Neuralgia or PHN. Only pain relievers are available to help since there are no cures. Another complication that can occur is a secondary bacterial infection. This happens when the blisters on your skin become infected, leading to more complications such as gangrene and scarring.
How can I Avoid Shingles?
If you have never had the chickenpox, it is important to try your best to stay away from individuals who have had the virus or who currently have shingles. You can contract VZV through someone with shingles, but shingles itself is not contagious. During pregnancy, it is especially important to stay away from the VZV infected. If you have had the VZV virus, it is important to keep your immune system boosted, so that it can create the antibodies needed to fight off unwanted illnesses.