If you’ve had chicken pox in the past, you’re at risk of getting shingles throughout your life.  The chicken pox virus is called varicella-zoster and if you’ve had chicken pox, this virus stays in your system and can resurface and present itself as shingles later in life.  Most commonly, the virus occurs in those 50 years of age or older but can happen to anyone at any age.

What is shingles?

Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful rash.  The rash can occur anywhere on the body, but most often occurs in a band around one side of the torso.  Shingles often occurs in stages, with the first sign of shingles being numbness/tingling or pain in an area.  This is often followed by a rash that turns into blisters.  Eventually, the blisters will dry up and scab before finally clearing up.  This initial rash can last up to a few weeks and can be very painful and debilitating, making participation in routine activities difficult. Shingles can sometimes result in long-term nerve pain known as post-herpetic neuralgia.  Many people feel that this is the most painful part of shingles as it can last anywhere from weeks to years.

Can you catch shingles from someone else who has them?

No, if you’ve been in contact with someone who has shingles, you can’t catch it from them.  If you have never had chicken pox though, you could potentially catch chicken pox from a person experiencing shingles.  This is particularly important in infants and others who have not yet been vaccinated against chicken pox.  If someone has shingles, they should avoid anyone who has not had chicken pox or has not yet been vaccinated against chicken pox.

How can I prevent shingles?

There is a vaccine that can help prevent shingles.  It is recommended if you are 50 years or older and have had chicken pox in the past.   This vaccine has been shown to be quite effective, specifically over 90% effective in preventing shingles for people who are 50 or older.  This vaccine is given in 2 doses- an initial dose followed by another dose anywhere between 2-6 months later.

In the past, there was another vaccine for shingles that did not work quite as well as this newer vaccine.  If you have received the older vaccine, it is recommended that you get revaccinated to provide yourself with better protection.  This vaccine still exists and can be considered an option if there’s a specific reason you may not be able to receive the newer, more effective vaccine. If you’re not sure which vaccine you received and you’d like to have optimal protection against the virus, you can ask your pharmacist or other health care provider to help guide you with which vaccines you may need.

Can I treat shingles if they occur?

If you catch your shingles symptoms early enough, you have some options.  The treatments include antiviral and pain medications to help stop the infection and treat the pain.  These medications are often time-sensitive and if you’re presenting with signs/symptoms of shingles, you should contact your pharmacist or health care provider immediately.  These methods are not always the most effective for treating shingles, and preventing the infection by vaccination is the best way to avoid this infection.

If you have any questions about vaccinating to protect yourself from shingles, reach out to your local pharmacist.