Shingles usually occurs in people 50 and older with weakened immune systems. The symptoms of shingles can be quite painful, so read on to find out how you can avoid this infection.
Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a chickenpox infection, the virus can lie dormant in nerve cells and may later reactivate, affect nerves just under the skin, and produce a tingling, itching, painful, and often bandlike rash known as shingles. As many as 10 percent to 20 percent of adults who had chickenpox as children will develop shingles.
Shingles is characterized by clustered red bumps that appear on one side of the body or face. It takes seven to ten days for the virus to run its course, during which time the itchy, painful bumps turn into blisters and crust over. You may see changes in the color of the skin when the scabs fall off.
In bad cases of shingles, these color changes last a lifetime. The pain of shingles can linger for one to three months or longer, a condition called postherpetic neuralgia. If shingles occurs in the eye area, it can cause swollen eyelids, redness, pain, and can affect vision -- in rare cases, it can cause serious vision problems.
Shingles isn't contagious, but the varicella-zoster virus is, so someone infected with shingles can transmit chickenpox, not shingles, to others who aren't immune to the virus.
Who's at Risk for Shingles
Adults 50 and older and people with weakened immune systems are primarily at risk. Shingles is rare in children and usually takes a milder form. Only people who have had chickenpox can develop shingles.
Defensive Measures Against Shingles
In children who have received the chickenpox vaccination, breakthrough chickenpox infections -- usually quite mild -- might occur. Scientific observations of vaccinated children have found that some will develop shingles at a later point in life. This is usually due to silent infection with the natural virus and not the weakened vaccine strain.
In May 2006, the Food and Drug Administration approved a new variant of the chickenpox vaccine that was designed to prevent shingles or make any subsequent shingles episodes milder. This new and more potent version of the chickenpox vaccine boosts immunity but is only for adults 60 and older.
It's important to stay up to date on tetanus vaccinations. Find out why in the next section.
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