If someone ever created a list of the most unusual names for diseases, the shingles virus would certainly top that list. This virus’ name conjures up images of a person whose skin is layered with carefully arranged roofing materials. Actually, shingles, also known as the herpes zoster virus, is comprised of a very uncomfortable and painful rash caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox in younger people. If you’ve ever had the chickenpox, unfortunately you are now at risk for also contracting shingles. The chance of contracting shingles also increases with age, with upwards of half of all adults developing the virus by the age of 80.
To see what the shingles virus really looks like, take a look at this page of photos from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website. Each year, it is estimated that there are about a million cases of shingles in the United States. As a result, the CDC strongly recommends the shingles vaccine for everyone age 60 and over, whether or not they’ve previously had chickenpox. Viewing the photos on the CDC website is one way to encourage people to get a shingles vaccine to prevent this unsightly and often quite painful disease.
How do you know if someone has shingles? One way to determine if an older adult has shingles is if he or she had chickenpox at any time in the past, and now has developed a rash of blisters filled with liquid on the skin. Usually these blisters appear on one side of the body only, but at times they can be distributed in patches or form a continuous band. The rash ranges from irritating or itchy to extremely painful and typically lasts up to 30 days. For many people, the pain caused by the rash decreases as it begins to heal. Additional symptoms can include fever, headache, nausea and chills.
Seniors may also experience other complications from having had the shingles virus. For example, if the shingles rash occurs on the face, it could affect the person’s eyes and vision. The most common complication of shingles is called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). PHN is a condition of persistent, lingering pain in the area where the rash used to be, and can last as long as weeks, months, and sometimes even years after the rash is gone.
Even though shingles can’t be passed on to another person, the virus can be transmitted to a person who’s never had chickenpox, causing that person to contract the chickenpox virus. The virus is not spread through sneezing or coughing, but can be shared through direct contact with fluid from the rash blisters; and a person is not contagious before the blisters appear or after the blisters have healed over.
At Visiting Angels in California, we can help to encourage and facilitate proper vaccinations as a part of healthy aging at home. To learn more about our senior care in California, or to schedule a free in-home assessment, contact us online or call us at 408-735-0977 or 510-284-0000.