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By Karen Minard #64779, RN

For those of us who have suffered the malady of shingles know I am not talking about the shingles that are on the roof of a building! I’m talking about the viral rash called shingles. If you had chicken pox as a child, you are at risk of getting shingles. Even after recovering from chicken pox, the virus varicella remains in your body for life, lying dormant in your nerve cells near the spinal cord. It is this virus that will cause shingles.

You must have been exposed to and gotten chicken pox to ever get shingles. When we are young and have a healthy immune system it keeps the virus in check, so getting shingles as a child is not as common. Unfortunately, as we age, our immune system can weaken, leaving us susceptible to getting shingles. Other factors can also affect the health of our immune system such as physical trauma, surgery and medicines or by chronic conditions that can suppress our immune system. If you are unsure if you have ever had chicken pox, this can be confirmed by a simple blood test.

It is thought that at least 98 percent of adults in the U.S. have had chicken pox. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that “one million cases of shingles will happen each year in the U.S.” It is important to note that if you have not had chicken pox, you can get it from someone suffering from chicken pox or if you have direct contact with another person who has shingles during the blister phase. To reiterate, the chicken pox virus is what causes shingles. And, interestingly enough, you cannot get shingles from a person who has shingles; you can only get chicken pox. Shingles is not spread person to person. The virus that caused chicken pox causes shingles. However, if you have shingles, you can spread it on yourself by touching the rash during the blister phase. The shingles virus, called vericella zoster or herpes zoster, acquired when you had chicken pox, travels from near the spinal cord along a nerve that connects with the skin and can strike any location on the body.

Most often, the shingles rash occurs in a band or strip on one side of the body in any location. If you are developing a case of shingles, you may have early signs anywhere from approximately one to five days before you develop the rash. Before the rash appears, some people experience a burning, tingling or itching in a specific area on one side of the body where the rash will occur. Unfortunately, there is no cure for shingles, but if it is caught early enough, there are antiviral medications your doctor can prescribe that may help reduce the severity. It is thought best to get these started within 72 hours of the start of your symptoms, so call your doctor as soon as possible to be seen. Other symptoms you may experience during shingles are fever, headache, chills and upset stomach.

Ultimately, you will see the rash emerge, which becomes fluid-filled blisters. The blisters usually scab over in about seven to 10 days, and the usual duration of the scabbed-over rash is up to 30 days and will cause some level of discomfort until the rash goes away. During the episode of shingles, the severity of the rash and the pain may be different for each individual; however, shingles can cause intense pain that has been described as deep, intense and stabbing. Some folks may have some pain symptoms even after the rash is gone or have eye or ear complications if that was the location of their shingles rash. This residual pain usually resolves in a few weeks, but some have this “postherpetic neuralgia” pain for years.

For those who have had chicken pox, there is a vaccination the FDA has licensed for use for people 60 years and older to help prevent shingles. And there are several antiviral medications that can be prescribed for the person who is suffering from shingles to help reduce the severity of the symptoms. Shingles pain can be eased by wet compresses, calamine lotion and colloidal oatmeal baths, which are suggested by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control). Also, if you have shingles, it is important to stay away from people who have not had chicken pox, pregnant women who have never had chicken pox or the varicella vaccine, premature or low birth-weight babies, people who are receiving chemotherapy, organ transplant recipients and people with HIV infection. If possible, it is best to simply stay away from others while you are in the fluid/blister phase. You are not contagious before the blisters or during the scab phase.

It is not a pleasant experience to have shingles, and I hope you don’t ever get a case or, if you do, it is a mild case. You may have to take a few days to slow down during RV travels, but things will improve; just be patient.
Karen lives full-time in her motorhome. She has been in nursing since 1969, with the last eight years as a travel contract registered nurse across the country. Her areas of specialty are emergency room and telemetry. Karen advises that nothing written is meant to diagnose, prescribe or take the place of seeing a physician. Her articles are not meant to cover all available information or health care options. Portions of Karen’s articles have been previously published or will be published in other informational newsletters and publications.

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