My brother just had the shingles and is having a lot of pain. I’ve heard there’s a shot to prevent shingles – I’m 68 so should I get it?
Shingles is a painful rash caused by a virus, Herpes zoster, the same one that causes chicken pox [also called ‘varicella’]. You have to have had chicken pox first; only then can you get shingles years later.
The rash begins with a burning pain on one side your body (rarely on both sides), followed by clusters of blisters lasting 7-10 days. One in ten people have the nerve around the eye & forehead infected, which could damage your vision if not treated. It is contagious from the time the blisters open until they dry up and therefore anyone who has not had chicken pox could get the pox from the blister fluid. Pregnant women need to stay away during the blister stage.
Anti-viral drugs such as acyclovir, if started within 72hours of the onset of the rash, can reduce the severity of the infection.
A major complication of shingles is “post-herpetic neuralgia” [PHN] – a burning pain lasting from one to many months after the rash has gone. The older you are, the greater the risk for PHN: 7% under age 70 develop it, compared with 18% over 70.
The best treatments to control the pain are oxycodone [Percocet], nortriptyline [Pamelor], and gabapentin [Neurontin].
There is a vaccination to prevent shingles. It is recommended for everyone over age 60, regardless whether they’ve already had shingles. It reduces the risk of infection by 50% and if you still get it, it reduces the severity of PHN. It should not be given to pregnant women or people with reduced immunity, such as in leukemia or AIDS.