07/01/17 — HEALTHY LIVING 2017: Shingles can be painful, know what it is and when to get treatment

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HEALTHY LIVING 2017: Shingles can be painful, know what it is and when to get treatment

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 1, 2017 4:35 PM

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Stephen Fairchild, PA-C, and Vicky Sutton, LPN, right, examine a patient for shingles.

Shingles might sound like a funny name for a disease, but the pain it can cause the patient is anything but funny.

The disease is an outbreak of the virus herpes zoster -- the same virus that causes chicken pox.

"If you have ever had the chicken pox, or the chicken pox vaccine, you can have an outbreak of shingles," said  Stephen Fairchild, MPAS, PA-C at Mount Olive Family Medicine Center.

Shingles is characterized by a burning or tingling sensation.

This is followed by a rash that turns into blisters.

These are usually painful, he said.

This rash usually lasts about 14 days, but may last longer. 

"Shingles is contagious from the time the tingling starts until the blisters are scabbed over," Fairchild said.

"If someone has not been immunized against chicken pox or has never had chicken pox, they can catch the virus and have a case of the chicken pox.

"This is especially concerning if a pregnant lady has never had the chicken pox or vaccine. This can increase the risk of birth defects in the baby.

"Also, if someone's immunity against the zoster virus has worn off, being around someone with shingles, may activate the virus and cause shingles to occur."

The rash of shingles usually follows one nerve and can occur anywhere on the body, Faircloth said.

It usually only occurs on one side of the body -- the characteristic that leads to the names for this condition.

The Greek word zoster means belt-like, which is the appearance of the rash when it occurs on the trunk, Faircloth said.

Shingles comes from the Latin word cingulus, which means the same thing, he said.

"Since shingle is a virus, we have not yet found a cure for it," Faircloth said.

"However, there are some antiviral medicines that if taken early enough, within 72 hours of an outbreak, can shorten the course and decrease the severity of the outbreak."

The names of these medicines are acyclovir, famcyclovir and valacyclovir.

There have been studies that show that starting these medicines can help prevent long-term nerve pain that can be caused by the shingles, he said.

This type of nerve pain is called post-herpetic neuralgia.

If this develops, a person should contact his or her doctor about potential treatments, Faircloth said.

"In the case of shingles, the best treatment is to try and avoid it in the first place," he said. "The shingles vaccine is available, and is recommended for anyone over 60 years old.

Besides post-herpetic neuralgia, other complications can occur from getting the shingles.

If the shingles occurs around the eye, there is a potential for blindness. Also, since there are usually open sores, other infections can occur.

For further information and epidemiology of herpes zoster, the Centers for Disease Control has good information, Faircloth said.

Almost one out of every three people in the country will develop shingles, according to the CDC.

Even children can develop the disease. However, the risk increases as a person ages. About half of the cases occur in men and women age 60 or older, according to the CDC.

There are an estimated one million cases annually.

A person normally suffers only one outbreak in their lifetime, although a a second or third outbreak is possible.

For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/shingles/index.html.