Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox
. In shingles, the virus is reactivated in nerve cells.
It is estimated that 15-28% of people will develop shingles at some point in their life.
People over the age of 65 are more likely to get shingles.
More people have been getting shingles in recent years.
A smaller proportion of the people who develop shingles need to be hospitalized because of effective new antiviral medications.
A shingles vaccine
was approved for use in Canada in 2008. BC does not yet have a publicly-funded shingles vaccine program.
Shingles (zoster) is a painful skin rash that is usually limited to a small area on one side of the body.
The most common symptoms are itching or tingling of the skin followed by a painful rash with blisters. The rash is usually limited to a small area on one side of the body.
Symptoms can include:
- Photophobia (sensitivity and intolerance to light)
Shingles is caused by varicella zoster virus (VZV).
VZV is the same virus that causes chickenpox (varicella).
VZV stays in the nerve cells of people after they recover from chickenpox.
Later on, the virus can be reactivated in the nerve cells, causing shingles. Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles.
Shingles is more common in people aged 50 years and over and people whose immune systems don’t work properly because of other illnesses or medications.
About one in five people who get shingles continue to have severe pain (called post-herpetic neuralgia) after the rash clears up. This pain can last for weeks after the rash clears to more than six months.
Rare complications of shingles include:
- Hearing problems
- Visual impairment when the ophthalmic nerve is affected
- Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis)
- Bacterial superinfection of the rash
Your health care provider will usually be able to diagnose shingles from the appearance and location of the rash.
When the presentation is unusual (which may be the case in a person whose immune system does not work well), a laboratory test can also confirm that the VZV virus is present in the blisters.
Your health care provider may prescribe an antiviral medication to treat shingles. It is best to start these medications as soon as possible after the rash appears. Early treatment can shorten the length of time the illness lasts and may keep the illness from getting worse.
Your health care provider may recommend a pain medication to help with the pain caused by shingles.
Shingles is not spread through sneezing, coughing or casual contact. A person is not contagious before blisters appear. The virus that causes chickenpox and shingles can be spread by direct contact with the blisters. To prevent the spread of VZV, people with shingles should cover their rash, not touch or scratch the rash, and wash their hands often. Once the shingles rash develops crusts, the skin lesions are no longer contagious.
When a person with shingles infects another person with the virus, that virus will cause chickenpox, not shingles. Chickenpox will only occur in people who have not had chickenpox before, nor been immunized against it.
A shingles vaccine was approved for use in Canada in 2008. BC does not yet have a publicly-funded shingles vaccine program.