Shingles is a very common, sometimes very painful illness. It comes with a rash and is experienced by a third of all people in the United States. It is technically known as herpes zoster, which is a viral infection. Herpes zoster also creates the childhood illness chickenpox.


There are approved vaccines that reduce the chances of getting shingles by up to 90 percent. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends shingles vaccinations for anyone over 50 years old, as the chances of getting shingles increases with age.


Unfortunately, the vaccines are not recommended for people with autoimmune disorders, such as HIV/AIDS. At the same time, people with autoimmune disorders are more susceptible to getting shingles than others. For the same reason, vaccination is not recommended for people undergoing chemotherapy treatments.

You could pass the shingles along to someone who has not yet had chickenpox or been vaccinated for chickenpox

Shingles and Chickenpox


The CDC notes that 99 percent of Americans had chickenpox when they were young, so whether or not you remember having chickenpox is not a reason to skip getting vaccinated. It is recommended for everyone not specifically listed as exceptions.


Medical science does not know why the virus goes dormant and then re-activates itself later in life as shingles. Since most people survive chickenpox it is likely remembered as a mild illness with a telltale rash of red spots – poxes. However, chickenpox complications include uncontrolled bleeding, bloodstream infections, dehydration and lung infections.


Similarly, complications arising from shingles can also be very serious, including nerve damage, loss of hearing and blindness.


Common Symptoms of Shingles

  • A painful, burning or tingling sensation
  • Rash made up of fluid-filled blisters
  • Itchiness, often resulting in tearing open blisters
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Fatigue

Finally, while shingles is not contagious, the herpes zoster virus is very contagious, so you could pass the shingles along to someone who has not yet had chickenpox or been vaccinated for chickenpox.

Postherpetic neuralgia

While it is rare for shingles to cause serious complications, such as hearing loss, blindness or death, about 10 percent to 13 percent of people with shingles develop postherpetic neuralgia, which can be experienced as extreme pain that can last for weeks, months or years.

Postherpetic neuralgia pain can be debilitating.

The CDC recommends several antiviral drugs, including acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir, to treat shingles. These drugs can help shingles from becoming a severe and lengthy illness.

A pain clinic can help find the proper pain management strategy for anyone with shingles and for those whose shingles develop into postherpetic neuralgia. In San Diego, call the Sorrento Valley Pain Relief Center at 858-280-3196 to discuss your options.

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