Seniors and Shingles: Myth vs Fact

 

Shingles is a painful disease caused by the same virus as the chicken pox — the herpes zoster virus– and affects an estimated 1 million people annually. In fact, more than half of all Americans will have experienced shingles by age 80.

Since shingles is very common, you may have heard differing information from friends, fellow caregivers, and healthcare providers. Let’s sort the truth about shingles from myth.

Shingles 101

Shingles is the reactivation of the dormant chicken pox virus that uniquely affects on side of the body. In the event of altered immunity, age, illness or other stressor, the virus re-emerges from its long-time home in the spinal nerves and a painful skin rash breaks out. Shingles may begin with pronounced fatigue and typically develops in three stages: severe pain or tingling along the nerve pathway, itchy rash, and blisters that resemble chickenpox.

Shingles myths and facts

Myth: Only elderly people get shingles.

Fact: Shingles is most common in older adults over age 60, however the disease can infect people of any age who have had chickenpox in the past. Because the immune system declines with age, seniors are at greater risk.

 

Myth: Shingles is contagious.

Fact: Shingles cannot be given to another person who has already had chickenpox. However direct or close contact with the rash can result in a chickenpox infection for someone who has never had chicken pox before, but this type of transmission is very uncommon. Shingles is not contagious before the rash appears or when the rash has crusted over.

 

Myth: Once you get shingles, you can never get it again.

Fact: While it’s true that over half of seniors will have an attack of shingles, the likelihood of multiple infections is estimated to be 1%-4%.

 

Myth: There are no medical complications associated with shingles.

Fact: Shingles is accompanied by intense, debilitating pain that interferes with basic functions, results in loss of sleep, and even depression. Outbreaks on the face or eyes can cause vision or hearing problems. Permanent blindness can result if not treated quickly. Other complications from shingles include: encephalitis, facial paralysis (Ramsay hunt syndrome), bacterial infections on the skin, and pneumonia.

 

Myth: Shingles cannot be prevented

Fact:  A vaccine for shingles become available in 2006 and has been shown to reduce the risk for shingles by 50%. A single dose is recommended for older adults age 60 and older.

 

Do you have additional information about the shingles virus you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below.

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5 Responses to Seniors and Shingles: Myth vs Fact

  1. Pingback: When the Bed Bugs Bite: Pest Protection Tips for Home Care Workers & Homebound Elderly - eCaring Forum

  2. caissg says:

    Great advise, Dr. Mazer!

    As a young caregiver who had shingles during caregiving, I can attest that shingles can affect anyone in high stressful situation. Since the shingles, I have learnt that stress causes your immune system to decrease. So use stress relaxation exercises. If caregiving is not for you, get help.

    I might add that the pain or “numbness” like paralysis can occur in any part of your body which was affected by the shingles attack. Like your face or your arm or your lower back. Also, the pain can remain longer than an year and the “numbness” feeling may never go away.

    I understand that the article suggests that less than 5% of shingles patients see a reccurence. My theory is that the chances of recurrence maybe higher if you get shingles at a younger age. If the less than 5% of data is based mostly on a patient population of over 60, by the time the recurrence occurs, they may have passed away. If you get shingles in your 20s or 30s, one has a much longer time span where recurrence can occur.

    For pain management, if regular medications do not work, try alternative medicine techniques. The best thing is to use stress relaxation techniques. Its good to prevent shingles in the first place and good for your overall health.

    all the best!

  3. Dr. Susan E. Mazer, PhD says:

    My experience with Shingles is the following:
    (1) The earlier the diagnosis, the milder the case. Any kind of sign of a lesion or pain should immediately be checked by a physician. Anti-viral medications are readily available a stop Shingles wherever they are. As a virus, there is only stopping it, not curing it. So whereever it is in your system, it has to live its life out. The sooner the better.
    (2) Pain is nerve pain. Lidocaine patches are very effective for pain management where the lesions are NOT open, but are still painful.
    (3) The pain lasts long after the rash is gone…maybe for a year or more… It is not a recurrence; it is the same case of shingles.

    Again, the sooner it is diagnoses and treatment starts, the better. A delay will result in more severe case of Shingles…

  4. Pingback: Seniors and Shingles: Myth vs Fact - Caregiving Coalition

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