What is Shingles?
If you have had chickenpox, the virus responsible is called the varicella-zoster virus. To contract shingles, this virus must already be in your system because it is responsible for both diseases. One-third of all people living in the U.S will contract this disease. The estimate is one million people contract this virus every year. If you have had chickenpox, you can get disease regardless of age, but the condition is the most common among people aged 50 and over.
Although the most prominent symptom is a rash, one-third of all people with shingles do not develop a rash. When you initially had chickenpox, your symptoms most likely included body aches, runny nose, and fever. Once you recovered, the virus remained hidden in your body among your neurons or nerve cells. According to studies, the virus is most likely to hide in a specific type of neuron located in your upper body called ganglions. This neuron controls pain in your face, chest, and upper body. The varicella-zoster virus can remain hidden for numerous years. Once reactivated, the virus starts to reproduce, then travels to your skin using your sensory nerve fibers.
The result is often a blistered, painful, burning, and incurable rash, which is a common symptom. The pain and blisters are generally found on one side of your face, chest, lower or upper back or abdomen. Before your blisters have formed, you will most likely experience a burning pain similar to a sunburn.
The rash will generally last between seven and ten days. If you contract a more severe form of the virus called herpes zoster ophthalmicus, your eye and face will be affected, resulting in visual issues and pain. If you are older, you might be unable to continue living independently. There are antiviral medications available to treat the pain and blisters. This decreases the length of the virus and helps stop the development of PHN or postherpetic neuralgia. This condition results in chronic pain.
Can the Virus Affect Periods?
If you are a woman currently transitioning into menopause, the virus can affect your menstrual cycle. This condition is more common at this age for men because of the hormonal changes women experience regarding their immune response. During your transition to menopause, contracting the virus increases your risk for numerous immune-related diseases, including multiple sclerosis, diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease. If you contract the virus as a young woman, your period may or may not be temporarily affected.
Who is Affected by the Virus?
More than half of all individuals living to the age of 85 will contract this virus. This is because, as you age, your cellular immunity changes. Your cellular immunity can also be affected by hormones, specific types of medication, and stress. This increases your vulnerability to viruses, including those in the herpes family such as cytomegalovirus, herpes simplex, and the varicella-zoster virus. According to recent studies, adults with lung diseases such as asthma or COPD that have inhaled or used oral steroids are more likely to contract the virus.
This is because these types of medications result in a suppression of your cellular immunity. The risk for women transitioning into menopause is higher in comparison to men due to hormonal changes affecting the immune response.
Prevention and Treatment
The prevention and treatment of the virus are essential in preventing PHN. When the virus reawakens, the damage is caused to nerve fibers. Some of the symptoms such as itching and the rash can be treated with a good shingles cream. This can help with your symptoms. If you experience pain for longer than three months after your rash has cleared, you may receive a diagnosis of PHN. This condition can last for numerous years. Approximately one out of every person suffering from the virus will get PHN.
The younger you are when you first see symptoms of the virus, the greater your risk of developing PHN. The additional risk factors include suffering from the virus or chronic pain in the past, being female, not using antiviral medications a maximum of two days after developing a rash, and smoking. Out of every ten people suffering from PHN, six are not able to go back to work. The result is a cost of millions for pain medication and hospitalization. If you treat your rash in time, shingles cream can often help with your symptoms.
Although there is no cure for the virus, the treatment options include antiviral medications and good shingles cream. Your long-term pain may be treated with one or more of the following. The success of these medications is limited, and you will most likely experience some side effects:
- Antiseizure medication
- Topical shingles cream and patches
- Lidocaine patches
- Alternative therapy including Reiki
The only way you can catch this virus from someone else is if you already have the virus in your system and come into direct contact with a rash before scabbing. As you age, your risk of contracting this virus will increase. There is nothing you can do to change this because it is a fact. There is a vaccine called Zostavax approved by the FDA. Getting this vaccine will decrease your risk of contracting the virus and PHN by more than 66 percent. This percentage may increase if you are a younger adult.
The vaccine initially received approval for people above the age of 65 due to the greater risk of contracting the virus. This has recently been changed for people over the age of 50. The cost of the vaccine is covered by the majority of insurance companies to some extent, including Medicare parts D and B and Medicaid. If you do not have insurance, your cost is dependent on where you receive the vaccine. The most current studies show the vaccine protects for six years with very few side effects.
If you have already had this virus, the chance you will experience a recurrence is six out of 100. Your risk increases if you had the virus before your turned 50, are female, have an immune deficiency, or suffer from high levels of stress.