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6 myths about shingles, a virus that can strike at any age and at any time

“I think this red bump is getting bigger and bigger.” That’s what I told my husband after becoming increasingly worried about the strange-looking rash that had appeared on my face four days earlier. I read online that most rashes are not serious, so I thought a trip to the doctor was unnecessary.

“What if you have Lyme disease?” he asked me. That question prompted me to go for an evaluation, but I was concerned that the doctor would tell me it was just a pimple. I was shocked when I found out that I had shingles.

I am 48 years old and even though it was just a small rash on my face, I was shocked to learn that if the rash had spread to my eyes – it was very close – I could have gone blind. Luckily, my doctor was able to prescribe an anti-viral medication. Within a week of the doctor’s visit, the painful rash was gone.

Shingles (also known as herpes zoster) is caused by the same virus as chickenpox – varicella zoster virus (VZV). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rate of shingles is increasing in the United States for unknown reasons. In fact, 1 in 3 people get the disease at some point in their lives.

That said, there are a lot of myths about shingles out there. So what do you need to know?

Myth 1: Only older people get shingles

Truth: You can get shingles at any age if you already have chickenpox because the virus lies dormant in your body and then reactivates into shingles; Even children can get it, although it’s very rare.

People often get shingles because their immune system is weakened, so it can happen if a person experiences stress or other problems that lower immunity. I think only people 60 and older get shingles, so I don’t think I can get it at 48.

“Years ago, herpes zoster (shingles) occurred almost exclusively in older people. But today it happens in younger people, including those in their 20s and 30s,” Dr. Robin Evans, a dermatologist at Southern Connecticut Dermatology in Stamford, Conn.

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She also noticed a recent increase in young people contracting the virus. “I have seen and heard of many cases of shingles developing in younger people in their 20s during the height of the COVID pandemic. It’s not clear whether stress and the effects of the immune system increase the frequency of shingles,” says Evans.

Myth 2: The shingles rash is only on your torso

Truth: The shingles rash is usually on one side of the body and can be on the trunk, face, or shoulders. It can also be found throughout the body, but is rare.

In my case, I just had a red rash on my forehead above my left eye. It hurts like a sunburn, but mostly only when I touch it.

Myth 3: Shingles is not contagious

Truth: Shingles can be contagious if blisters are present.

If you touch the rash and then touch another part of your body, shingles can be spread. You can also infect others by coming into contact with the shingles rash.

The doctor told me that if I touch my rash, I should wash my hands immediately to avoid spreading it to other parts of my body or to other people. But Dr. Beth Goldstein, a dermatologist at Central Dermatology in North Carolina explains that, typically, you’ll only spread shingles to other parts of your body or to other people if you have blisters or open areas of skin.

“If someone has never had a chickenpox or chickenpox shot, they can become infected by exposure to actual zoster lesions or even by airborne transitions from someone with shingles,” says Goldstein. .

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Myth 4: You can only get shingles once

Truth: You can get shingles more than once, sorry to say.

Although most people get shingles only once, it is possible to get shingles more than once, but this is very rare. “The virus can reactivate after it disappears. However, getting vaccinated against shingles greatly reduces the chances of getting infected again,” said Dr. Dr. Stacy Chimento, a dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology in Florida.

Goldstein says research shows that 1% to 6% of people with shingles will get a second episode, but relapses are more common in women and if you’re immunocompromised.

Myth 5: You can’t get shingles if you’ve been vaccinated against shingles

Truth: You can get shingles if you get the shingles vaccine, although this is unlikely. Shingles vaccine Shingrix More than 90% effective in preventing shingles. CDC recommends healthy people age 50 and older Get two doses of this vaccine, two to six months apart, to prevent shingles and its complications.

Goldstein says that in a trial of 15,000 individuals over the age of 50, followed for three years, the vaccine reduced the risk of zoster by 97.2% and there were no cases of PHN [Postherpetic Neuralgia, a painful, long-lasting condition that sometimes occurs after having shingles]. In a second study, an efficacy against PHN of 89% was reported.

Myth 6: Shingles is very rare

Truth: About 1 million people get shingles each year in the U.S. To put that into some context, the CDC estimates that between 9 million and 45 million people get the flu each year.

Should you seek treatment?

I didn’t know there was a cure for shingles. Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication that should clear up in a few days. Medicines have few or no side effects, so you’re better off taking treatment away from the risk of experiencing symptoms that could be related to untreated shingles, such as persistent pain or blindness. .

“It’s important to seek treatment right away because medications can shorten the course of the disease,” says Evans.

She also adds that if the rash is on your face, especially on your forehead, you should see your doctor. “Treatment is important because it can cause eye problems if left untreated,” Evans notes.

In addition to avoiding lingering symptoms, treatment can shorten the severity and duration of acute pain, scarring the rash, and potentially reduce postherpetic neuralgia, defined as pain lasting more than 4 months at the site of the rash, Goldstein explains.

What you need to know about the shingles vaccine

Even if you already have shingles, Goldstein recommends getting vaccinated, which contains an inactivated virus, because you can get shingles more than once.

“The vaccine can reduce the severity and incidence of shingles, and most importantly, the incidence of postherpetic neuralgia, which is the worst part of shingles – the chronic pain,” she said. count.

As with the COVID-19 mRNA injection, there can be side effects with the shingles vaccine.

“It’s very individual in terms of vaccine side effects. There are certainly a large number of individuals, about forty-four percent, who experience muscle pain and other similar symptoms, compared with about eighty-two percent with the COVID vaccine, Goldstein said.

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Most health insurance companies will cover the cost of the vaccine if you are over 50 years old. Otherwise, you may need to pay out-of-pocket, which can cost around $200.

Next time I see the doctor, I plan to ask about vaccinations, even though I’m under 50. I’m lucky I’ve had a mild case and I don’t want a re-injection or maybe a severe case. if i can help it.

Cheryl Maguire holds a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology. She is married and the mother of twins and a daughter. Her writing has been featured in the New York Times, National Geographic, Parent Magazine, AARP and many other publications. She is a professional member of ASJA. You can find her at Twitter @CherylMaguire0

This article is republished with permission of NextAvenue.org, © 2021 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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