Shingles is caused by the same virus as the chickenpox, so if you’ve had chickenpox – and 97 percent of New Zealanders have – then you’re at risk of getting shingles.
After you have chickenpox, the virus (called varicella-zoster) remains in your body. When you’re young, your immune system is usually strong enough to keep the virus in check. But as you age it becomes easier for shingles to break through your body’s defenses, especially if you’re under stress.
Shingles typically begins with pain and itching. Within 2 to 3 days red patches start to form on the skin in the painful area, and the pain may worsen or become a deep aching or burning.
If you are under 50 years of age, shingles pain is often not too severe, but if you are older it can be extremely painful. The rash then develops into a 'belt' of small blisters, usually on only one side. The blisters tend to join and crust over in about 7 to 10 days. The area of the rash depends on which nerve supply the virus has been 'hiding out' in.
Untreated, the rash usually lasts two to five weeks, and it may leave some scarring. You remain infectious until all of the rash has scabbed over. You may also experience headaches and fever.
If you notice any of the symptoms above, see your doctor. They can prescribe an antiviral medication if appropriate along with the right type of pain relief.
Protect yourself with a shingles vaccination. A vaccine to prevent shingles is now available to those aged 50 and older from selected Unichem Pharmacies. Book today!