When it comes to odd disease names, the shingles virus tops the list. The name of the disease conjures up an image of a person with carefully layered roofing materials growing out of his skin. In reality, shingles, or the herpes zoster virus, as it’s also known, is a quite painful rash brought on 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. Shingles risk increases with age, with a full one-half of adults contracting the shingles 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. It is estimated that there are a million instances of shingles diagnosed in the U.S. each year. 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? An older adult might have shingles if he or she had chickenpox as a child, young adult, or at any time in the past, and now has developed a rash of liquid-filled blisters on the skin. Although the blisters almost always occur on only one side of the body, 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. If shingles occurs on the face, it might affect one’s eyes and vision. The most common complication of shingles is called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). PHN, characterized by persistent, lingering pain even after the shingles rash has healed, can last for weeks, months, or even years after the rash is gone.
One cannot pass shingles on to another person; however, a person with active shingles can transmit the virus to someone who has never had chickenpox—causing that person to come down with the chickenpox virus. The shingles virus is spread only through contact with fluid from the rash blisters, and not through sneezing or coughing; and a person is no longer contagious after the blisters have developed crusts or before they’ve developed.
At Best Senior Home Care, we can help to encourage and facilitate proper vaccinations as a part of healthy aging at home. To learn more about our in-home senior support services in Fresh Meadows, Queens Village, Manhattan, and the surrounding areas, or to schedule a free in-home assessment, contact us online or call us at 718-224-0905.