How to Prevent Shingles (Herpes Zoster)

Two Parts:Preventing ShinglesSeeking Medical Help

Shingles (also known as herpes zoster) is a distressing skin rash caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV) - the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person has had chickenpox, VZV stays in the body. Usually the virus causes no problems; however, now and again the virus can reappear, causing shingles. Fortunately, there are a number of strategies to prevent contracting shingles.

Part 1
Preventing Shingles

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    Get the shingles vaccine.[1] The shingles vaccine is approved for adults over the age of 50, and recommended strongly for individuals over the age of 60. This is because, the older you get, the greater your risk of contracting shingles. The vaccine is recommended even if you are not sure whether or not you have previously had chickenpox.
    • The vaccine is not 100% effective at preventing shingles; however, it does greatly diminish your chances of getting it, despite not being a guarantee.
    • A further benefit of the shingles vaccine is that, in the chance that you do still get shingles, the illness will be much less severe and will most likely be without complications.[2]
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    Prevent postherpetic neuralgia, a potential complication of shingles. One of the most worrisome complications of shingles, particularly for those over 60 years old, is the risk of the "postherpetic neuralgia" complication. This is when the pain associated with the shingles rash persists long after the rash itself has disappeared. This occurs in 10-15% of people who contract shingles, and can be a devastating complication greatly affecting one's quality of life.[3] Fortunately, the vaccine makes the risk of this complication extremely low, even if you do still develop shingles. This is yet another reason to prioritize receiving the shingles vaccine.
    • Note that the vaccine is not safe to give to pregnant women, to people with already weakened immune systems, or to those with a severe allergic reaction to neomycin or gelatin.
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    Do not avoid those infected with chicken pox.[4] Being in the presence of the chickenpox virus again is actually a hidden blessing, because it once again boosts your immunity to VZV, which in turn works to prevent shingles. Although it is not advisable to seek out people with chickenpox, if you happen to be around someone with it consider it a bonus when it comes to your own shingles immunity.
    • On the other hand, if you have never caught chickenpox in your life, you will not want to be around people with chickenpox as you will catch it.
    • Being around people with chickenpox only helps to prevent shingles.
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    Build a healthy immune system. It is important to understand that shingles is the same virus as chickenpox, simply reactivated later in life. When you catch chickenpox, although the symptoms disappear, the varicella zoster virus (VZV) remains stored in your nervous system. With certain triggers, the virus can "flare up" again down the road in the form of shingles. This is why building a healthy immune system is key, as it can help to protect you from flare ups of VZV (i.e. shingles). [Click here] for strategies to strengthen your immune system.

Part 2
Seeking Medical Help

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    Recognize potential signs and symptoms of shingles.[5] Shingles most often begins with unusual sensations such as itchiness, burning, tingling, or loss of sensation in one area of the skin (and localized to one side of the body and not the other). This may be accompanied by a general feeling of being unwell and/or a fever. One to two days after the onset of these symptoms, a shingles rash (often painful blisters in a band-like pattern) typically appears.
    • The rash may also occur near the eye. If this is the case, seeking medical treatment sooner rather than later is key to prevent potential complications such as blindness.
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    Prevent complications by seeking treatment early.[6] If you have contracted shingles and are seeking to prevent complications of the disease, be sure to see a doctor as soon as possible. The quicker you start medical treatment for shingles, the less likely your risk of developing complications.
    • Preventing complications is key because the complications of shingles are, in many cases, more burdensome than the illness itself.
    • The complication of postherpetic neuralgia can lead to long-term chronic pain, and the likelihood of this can be greatly diminished with early treatment (as well as vaccination).
    • Having shingles around your eye can lead to serious eye problems and even blindness if not treated early.
    • The shingles blister may become infected with bacteria if not addressed and treated appropriately.
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    Avoid spreading it to others.[7] If you have been diagnosed with shingles, it is important to take preventative measures to avoid spreading the VZV virus to others. Shingles itself is not contagious from person to person; however, someone who has never had chickenpox can catch chickenpox by being in contact with someone with shingles.
    • In particular, avoid your shingles blisters coming into contact with anyone else, as these can lead to direct spread of the VZV virus.

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Categories: Skin Conditions