If you or someone close to you has experienced a bout of shingles, you know just how painful the condition can be. While some older adults experience mild symptoms, for many, the pain is severe and long-lasting.
Here’s what seniors and caregivers should know about shingles and its connection to chickenpox.
What Is Shingles and What Causes It?
Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox—the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). If you had chickenpox at any point in your life, the VZV virus likely still lives in your body. For one in three adults, the virus will become active again and cause shingles to develop.
The condition affects nerves throughout the body, but a rash typically appears only on one side of the body. Symptoms commonly include the following:
- Burning sensation
- Shooting nerve pain
- Blisters and/or rash
- Body aches
The pain can be excruciating—especially for older adults, as they often experience a more severe case of shingles.
Unfortunately, it can take between three and five weeks for a case of shingles to disappear. For some seniors, a case of shingles can lead to a painful complication called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). PHN is the result of viral damage to nerve cells and can last for a year or longer.
Risk Factors for Developing Shingles
While everyone who has had chickenpox is at risk, there are two primary groups of people who are at highest risk for developing shingles:
- Seniors: Almost half of all cases of shingles are in people aged 60 and older. The risk is highest for people over the age of 70.
- Immunocompromised: Adults with autoimmune diseases like lupus or multiple sclerosis are at higher risk, too. As are people undergoing cancer treatment and those with HIV.
Shingles isn’t contagious, but there is a caveat. People who haven’t had chickenpox can catch chickenpox from coming into contact with someone who has shingles.
The Shingles Vaccine
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends adults age 50 and older receive the shingles vaccine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration licensed a new shingles vaccine called Shingrix in 2017.
Shingrix is a two-step vaccine which has replaced Zostavax as the CDC’s preferred vaccine. Adults receive two doses of Shingrix two to six months apart to protect themselves against both shingles and PHN.
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Source: Sunrise Senior Living