Understanding Shingles

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SHAVERTOWN, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — You may have seen pharmacies with signs indicating that the vaccine for shingles is available there. But do you know what causes shingles and how to recognize the symptoms?

A case of shingles can cause a nasty rash that appears as a strip of blisters. Whether you get infected with shingles can depend on a couple of things including if you had another disease earlier.

“I had no clue, no idea that there was something else that could be you know laying in wait for your body to come out.” That “something else” Kathy Elick is talking about is shingles — a disease she’s never had that results from the same virus that causes chickenpox, which she’s had. “When I was a child, I absolutely did. Yeah.”

Anyone who had chickenpox, either as a child or adult, can get shingles. The virus that became dormant in your nerve roots somehow awakens in nearly one out of every three people in the U.S. Commonwealth Health Family Physician Alan Boonin, MD said, “Usually shingles is one-sided because it’s following a nerve root and the root starts in your back and comes around to the front.”

Dr. Boonin says the symptoms are unmistakable. “They start with some painful itching on their skin without the rash and then the rash will break out several days later.” Tingling and burning are also common. While shingles cannot be passed from one person to another, you can get  chickenpox from someone with shingles. It can happen by coming in contact with fluid from the shingles rash. 

Dr. Boonin says it’s vital to catch shingles before they blister. “If we get you within 48 hours of when the rash breaks out, we give you an anti-viral medication and sometimes steroids and that basically stops it and it recedes and goes away.”

If you have shingles once, you could get it again. Dr. Boonin recommends the shingles vaccine if you’re 60 or older. While considered a little more than 50 percent effective at preventing shingles, Dr. Boonin says the vaccine is beneficial. “You may still get the shingles when you’re on the shingles vaccine but you may also prevent the pain.”

Shingles generally run their course within 30 days. Dr. Boonin says he often prescribes pain medication and topical creams to cope with the condition. Using products like cornstarch or baking soda can help dry and heal the shingles blisters.

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