Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), which is the virus that causes chicken pox. If you had chicken pox at any point in your life, the virus probably still lives in your body. For one in three adults, it will become active again and cause shingles to develop.
While the condition affects nerves all throughout the body, a rash that usually appears on only one side is a characteristic symptom. Other common symptoms of shingles include:
The pain can be excruciating, especially for seniors, who are prone to developing a more severe case of shingles than younger adults.
If you are unfortunate enough to develop shingles, it can take three to five weeks to disappear. For some seniors, it can lead to a painful complication called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). PHN is the result of viral damage to nerve cells and can last for a year or longer.
While everyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles, the two groups at highest risk include:
Though shingles isn’t contagious, people who haven’t had chickenpox can catch it from coming into contact with someone who has shingles.
In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new vaccine for shingles called Shingrix. The protection it offers has been shown to last five years or longer. Shingrix has proven to be so effective that its predecessor, Zostavax, is no longer sold in the United States. People over the age of 50 who’ve had chicken pox or previously had shingles are encouraged to talk with their primary care physician about this vaccine. Your doctor will also likely recommend getting vaccinated if you don’t know whether you had chickenpox as a child.
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