Many people have memories of the week they spent at home with an itchy chickenpox rash. The same virus that causes chickenpox can be reactivated later in life to cause shingles.
Jennifer Roth is a Pharmacy Manager at Central Alberta Co-op in Red Deer. She answered our questions about this disease, and spoke to us about how you can prevent shingles with the help of your local Co-op pharmacist.
What is shingles, and how is it caused?
Shingles is a viral infection caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus in the nerve, causing tingling, pain and a blistering rash on one side of the body.
Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, which is the same virus as chickenpox. For people who have had chickenpox, the virus stays dormant, or inactive, in the body. This virus can reactivate later in life to cause shingles.
What are signs and symptoms of shingles?
The initial symptoms of shingles are usually pain, itching or tingling on one side of the body, about one to five days before a rash develops. Then, a blistering rash appears and usually scabs over in seven to 10 days. Other symptoms may include fever, headache, chills and upset stomach.
What are the potential complications of shingles?
The most common complication is postherpetic neuralgia, which is nerve pain in the area where the shingles rash appeared. This pain can be severe for some people. It may resolve in a few weeks, but some people have this pain for months or years. In addition, shingles around the eyes can affect vision. There is also a small risk of secondary infection of the shingles rash if it is not kept clean.
How can I prevent shingles?
The only way to prevent shingles is by getting the shingles vaccine. Shingrix® is over 90 per cent effective in preventing shingles.
The Shingrix vaccine is an inactivated (contains a dead pathogen to build immunity), adjuvanted (includes ingredients to enhance immunity) vaccine, given as two intramuscular injections in the upper arm, separated by two to six months.
Who should get the shingles vaccine?
Healthy adults who are 50 years and older should get the vaccine, even if they are unsure if they have had chickenpox in the past.
Who should not get the shingles vaccine or who should wait?
For Shingrix specifically, anyone who currently has shingles, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and those with a moderate to severe acute illness should wait. If you had the Zostavax® vaccine, you should wait at least two months before getting Shingrix.
Anyone who has had an allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine or a previous dose should not get the vaccine.
How can I get the shingles vaccine?
The shingles vaccine requires a prescription from a physician. Some pharmacies have pharmacists with additional prescribing authorization who can prescribe the shingles vaccine. Ask if your Otter Co-op pharmacist is able to prescribe the vaccine for you.
Once you have a prescription, most pharmacists and physicians can administer the shingles vaccine.