North Vancouver Travel Clinic
What is shingles?
Shingles is a viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). This virus is responsible for the famous chickenpox, which leaves VZV dormant inside the nervous system even after the infection heals.
Once the chickenpox infection is treated, the virus stays dormant in the body for many years and may become activated and change form and cause Shingles. Once the infection gets activated again ( usually later in life ), we start dealing with shingles. Another name for shingles is herpes zoster, which is mostly used by healthcare professionals and those in the medical field.
The transmission and predisposition to shingles
Shingles is especially prevalent in individuals with weakened immune systems, such as diabetics, cancer patients, and elderly adults.
Generally speaking, the immune system prevents VZV from getting reactivated after you had the chickenpox infection when you were younger. However, if your immune system is weakened because of diseases or immunosuppressant drugs (e.g., chemotherapy), the virus will get reactivated, causing shingles.
Signs and symptoms of Shingles
Shingles presents with an array of signs and symptoms that involve the vast majority of organ systems (especially the skin). The typical painful blisters occur in a particular pattern that follows the path of a nerve group.
Some patients report experiencing pain before the blisters, which generally occur around the mid-torso region.
Aside from blisters and pain, shingles also causes the following signs and symptoms:
In some cases, shingles affect sensitive areas, which could lead to irreversible complications. For instance, this virus could infect the eye or ear (Ramsay-Hunt syndrome) and cause severe damage in the two organs.
How is it treated?
For therapeutic purposes, physicians divide shingles treatment into two categories:
This involves the prescription of antiviral medications that neutralize the threat of the virus, such as acyclovir or valacyclovir.
Non-specific treatment (i.e., symptomatic treatment)
Symptomatic treatment focuses on relieving the patient’s discomfort by prescribing anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g., ibuprofen), analgesics (e.g., narcotic medications), antihistamines (for the itching), and a drug called capsaicin (Zostrix), which reduces the risk of post-herpetic neuralgia (severe neuropathic pain after the healing of shingles).
Prevention of shingles
The prevention of shingles is achieved with vaccines, as it’s the only way to reduce the risk of this infection, or at the very least, temper down its severity.
While most children get the chickenpox vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all adults above the age of 50 should get the shingles vaccine.
This recommendation is even more emphasized in immunocompromised individuals (e.g., diabetics, cancer patients) who should get vaccinated even if they’re younger than 50 years old.
The CDC states that Shingrix is the gold standard vaccine, yielding better results than Zostavax. In fact, even if you received Zostavax before, the CDC recommends getting vaccinated again with Shingrix.
How effective is the vaccine?
The Shingrix vaccine is more than 90% effective at preventing shingles and post-herpetic neuralgia. This protection remains above 85% for at least the first four years after receiving the vaccine.
Side effects of the vaccine
Generally speaking, the Shingrix vaccine is considered safe.
However, and like any pharmacological substances, it could lead to some mild side effects, including:
Mild pain around the arms
Swelling and redness around the vaccine shot
The scheduling of the vaccine
All individuals above the age of 50 should receive a two-dose series (0.5 ml each) separated by a period of 2-6 months. In B.C. , Shingrix vaccine is not a publicly-funded vaccine and is paid privately by individuals.
**The information on this website is only for general informational purposes only and may not be extensive. The information does not, and is not intended to be used to provide travel-related health advice.