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Shingles - 1 in 3 Americans Diagnosed in Their Lifetime

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If you have had the chicken pox in the past, you could get shingles. If you've been given the chicken pox vaccine, you can still get shingles but it is less common in those who have been vaccinated, according to the Minnesota Department of Health's website.

The CDC reports that 1 in 3 Americans will get shingles in their lifetime and so it's important for all of us to know a little about them. According to the urgent care doctor I spoke with at Park Nicollet Clinic last week, he indicated he diagnoses shingles at least once a week in his practice. People generally only get one episode of shingles in their lifetime and its severity can range widely from a little rash and some aches to debilitating for several months.

IMPORTANT NOTE: It is VERY important to be seen by a doctor right away if you suspect you have shingles, no later than 72 hours after the rash appears. Why? My clinician said the anti-viral medication is significantly more effective in reducing the severity of shingles.

What is Shingles? (Medical Term: Zoster)

The virus lays dormant in your nerve system until a time when your immune system is compromised or a time of stress but it can occur without either of these situations present. Half the cases, according to the CDC, are in people over 60. The Minnesota Department of Health recommends people over 60 get the Zos vaccine.

What Does Shingles Look Like?

When the rash appears, according to the doctor at Park Nicollet I spoke with, it will follow a certain nerve path along your neck, torso, spine and/or head generally on just one side of your body. It is a painful red rash that forms into blisters that scab over in 7 - 10 days but can be visible up to one month.

What other symptoms come with Shingles?

In the days (or sometimes weeks) before the rash appears, you might experience tingling in the area where the rash will be appear. Additionally, you might get headaches, fever, shooting pain down your arms or legs or feel chilled. The most common complication of shingles is a condition called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) which is a severe pain in the areas where the rash occurs and may continue for months or even years after the rash is gone.

What is the treatment for Shingles?

An anti-viral medication can be prescribed and it is more effective if the rash is less than 72 hours (3 days) old, according to my clinican. The shingles rash is quite irritating and can be treated with over the counter lotion. I used clear caldyphen lotion, which can be found at a local pharmacy. My case was mild and so I only required Tylenol for pain in addition to the prescription and lotion.

Are Shingles contagious?

According to my doctor, I was not to let anyone come in contact with the blisters because if someone has not had chicken pox or the vaccine for it, if they were to touch the shingles blisters, they could get chicken pox. Until the blisters scab over with no underlying pus, care should be taken to not expose others.

Important note: Those who have had chicken pox or the vaccine do not get shingles by coming in contact with the rash.

I was lucky - mine was caught early (just a rash on my neck and shoulder that I thought were caused by seat belt irritation!) and I have pain easily managed by Tylenol. Anyone, including children (76 cases in Minnesota schools in 2010-2011), can get shingles so be on the lookout for early signs and see a doctor right away!

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