Though we may hear the term “Shingles” used off and on in today’s world, I find that few actually understand what the viral infection Shingles is. Shingles comes from the Varicella-Zoster virus, the same virus that causes Chicken Pox. Once a person has contracted Chicken Pox, the virus actually remains dormant in the nerve tissue around the spinal cord and brain. Should the virus “awaken”, the person will contract Shingles. Most adults these days have had Chicken Pox, and therefore already house the virus capable of causing Shingles. This will change in coming years as now the Varicella (Chicken Pox) vaccine is common in today’s childhood immunizations. If you are an adult and have never had Chicken Pox, it is a good idea to get immunized.
Shingles is often painful, often characterized by sharp pains, burning, and numbness, typically in a belt that wraps around one side of the abdomen. Shingles is not limited to this area though, and can even develop on the face, neck, or near the eyes. The pain associated with Shingles typically surfaces first, followed by a rash that in turn blisters. Once the rash has blistered, it is in fact contagious. Should someone contract the virus from the blister, they will develop Chicken Pox, not Shingles. Once the blisters scab over, you should no longer be contagious.
If you experience a painful, blistering rash on a side of your body, face, or neck, oftentimes accompanied by fever, sensitivity to light, fatigue, or headache, it is highly recommended you contact your doctor. Though there is no cure for Shingles, the sooner it is detected and treatment is administered, the lower the likelihood of complications. If left untreated, the Shingles virus can cause vision damage, skin infection, nerve problems, and lasting pain. It is especially important to note, that if you are above the age of 70, have a weakened immune system, or are in direct contact with someone with a weakened immune system, OR if your rash is near your eyes, you seek medical attention immediately. All of these situations can lead to severe complications if left untreated. Typically upon seeking medical treatment, an antiviral is prescribed, and depending on severity, something to help alleviate discomfort. The lifespan of Shingles typically runs anywhere from two to six weeks.
If you are experiencing the symptoms above, we highly recommend you seek medical attention. If you are a member of VIP Medical Services, please call Dr. Holt with your symptoms, and he will be happy to advise your next course of action. If you are looking for a new Primary Care provider, consider making VIP Medical Services your healthcare home! We offer members unlimited monthly office visits with no copay, same or next day appointments, longer appointment times, and 24/7 access to the doctor! 417-485-4847