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Shingles: What You Should Know

You’ve probably heard references to the disease known as “shingles” throughout your life, but you may not actually know what it is, how dangerous it is, or what you can do to prevent getting it. What you need to know is that shingles is a potentially dangerous virus, of particular interest to seniors, but fortunately, one that can be dealt with.

Shingles is a viral infection that is actually the same virus as childhood chicken pox. While the virus lays dormant in us after we recover from our childhood bouts of it, it has the potential to reactivate and wreak havoc within us. There are a number of factors that can cause this reawakening, but for seniors, the loss of immune function and overall cellular health that comes with age puts them at particular risk. In fact, about half of the population living to age 85 will suffer an attack of shingles.

Shingles symptoms start mild, with headaches, fever, and a feeling of unease, but soon a painful, stripe-like rash will appear on one or more places of the body. Typically, the rash will resolve in three to five weeks, but for seniors especially, there is a not insignificant risk that the infection can cause lasting nerve damage, leading to chronic pain that lasts for a lifetime after. Additionally, if the rashes occur in the face, the eye can be affected and lead to blindness.

Fortunately, there exists a vaccine, approved by the FDA in 2017. Known as Shingrix, it is more than 97% effective in preventing shingles in adults age 50 or older, and reduces the severity and length of those that do contract it. Consult with your primary care provider and find out if you’re eligible to receive this vaccine.