Shingles can strike any time. Though folks over age 45 make up 75% of shingles cases, anyone is vulnerable. My husband got a wicked case of it when he was 40. The first sign of shingles is pain, then followed a few days later by a blistery rash that follows a pattern of a dermatome (nerve pathway).
What is it? Shingles is a painful rash caused by the Varicella Zoster virus, the same virus that causes chicken pox. After recovery from chicken pox, the virus lays dormant (sleeping) in the nerve roots and can wake up years/decades later as shingles.
What makes zoster reactivate? Severe stress, weakened or aging immune system.
What does it look like? Check out this photo gallery for examples.
Can I get shingles if I never had chicken pox? No.
What if I had the varicella vaccine? Yes, it is possible to still get shingles, but the case will likely be milder.
Is it contagious? Yes and no. You can’t shingles rash from someone with an acute case. However, a person can get infected with the zoster virus and develop chicken pox if they are exposed to an active case of shingles. That’s only if they never had chicken pox or received the vaccine.
How is it spread? Through direct contact with fluid from the blisters. A person with shingles is contagious only during the blister phase. Once the rash turns crusty, the person is no longer contagious.
Can it be fatal? Very low fatality rate. A study conducted at Rey Juan Carlos University suggests it is less than 5%.
I’ve had it already. Can I get it again? Very unlikely, but again, not impossible.
Can it be prevented? Not 100%, but best bet for prevention: get vaccinated. Vaccine is recommended for ages 50+
Is there treatment for shingles? Yes, there is medication available to shorten the duration and lessen the severity of the infection. But it has to be started ideally in the first 48hrs of onset, which is hard to do because pain is first, then rash. Not everyone thinks of shingles when all they have is pain. If you think you might have shingles no matter how long it’s been, do see your primary care provider. And absolutely get seen as soon as possible if the rash is anywhere near your eye. That must be considered emergent!
Most insurance should cover the vaccine, but check your policy to be sure. There is help from Merck if you have no coverage:
More about the vaccine:
More information for health care professionals: