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Shingles: What you need to know

Shingles is a painful disease caused by a reawakening of the same virus that

causes chickenpox. Common symptoms include a rash on one side of the body and severe pain that can last for months or years. About one of every three people in the United States will get shingles in their lifetime. About half of people who live to be 85 will have one or more bouts of the disease.

People don't catch shingles from other people. Only people who have had chickenpox can get shingles. Shingles occurs when the chickenpox virus, which can live silently in the nervous system for decades, reawakens. This can be caused by a weakening of the immune system, most commonly from advancing age. Although people almost never die from shingles, they can be severely hurt by it. The pain can be so severe it leads to sleeplessness, depression, weight loss and interference with daily activities. The pain of shingles is one of the most severe types of pain an adult can suffer. Shingles can also affect the nerves around the eye area and occasionally causes reduced vision or blindness.

People with shingles cannot give it to someone else, but they can pass the chickenpox virus to others through direct contact with the rash. For example, if the grandchildren of someone with shingles have not yet had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine they could become infected with the virus and develop chickenpox. The risk of spreading is reduced if the rash is covered by dressings or clothing.

The good news is shingles vaccines do work. Zostavax vaccine for shingles, available since 2006, protected more than half of those who got it from the shingles rash and about two-thirds from the long-lasting pain. Shingrix protected almost 100 percent of people from getting the shingles rash and about 90 percent from long-lasting pain. Because of the dramatic difference, the committee of experts that advises the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommended Shingrix vaccine. If you had chickenpox, you can get shingles. The only way to prevent it is with the shingles vaccine.

Check with your health care provider and your insurance plan about which shingles vaccine is best for you. To learn more visit vaccine.chop.edu or call Horizon Public Health at 320-208-6672

Schroeder is a registered nurse with Horizon Public Health, which serves five counties, including Douglas County.

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