How Likely Is One To Get Shingles?
Shingles, a condition caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), is a painful skin disorder that usually occurs in people over the age of 60. The varicella-zoster virus is the same pathogen that causes chickenpox. If you have had chickenpox in the past, the virus can lurk inactively in your body for many years, only to activate again at a later date. An outbreak will usually last between 3 to 5 weeks. However, some effects can be long-lasting. Generally, you can only have an outbreak once, but some individuals have gotten it more than once.
Why People Have Outbreaks
It may seem strange that a disease experienced in childhood can lie in wait for many years, only to strike again later. But the varicella-zoster virus does precisely that, lying dormant in nerve cells in the body. As long as your body’s immune system remains strong, the virus stays dormant. But aging and other conditions can weaken the immune system, re-activating it. Symptoms include a raised rash, blisters, pain from the inflammation, fatigue, headache, and sometimes, fever.
Who Is At Risk For Having a VZV Outbreak?
Anyone who has had chickenpox is vulnerable to the virus reactivating. However, a number of factors can put you at greater risk:
- Individuals over 50 are at higher risk of having an outbreak. Also, as the years pass after the age of 50, your risk of developing symptoms increases. It is estimated about half of those over the age of 80 will experience an outbreak of the virus.
- Certain diseases can make you vulnerable to developing shingles. Disorders that affect the autoimmune system can make you more vulnerable to awaking the virus. Diabetes, having had childhood cancer, and other conditions can increase your risk.
- Some types of medications can lower your immune system’s ability to fight disease, making you more vulnerable.
- Radiation treatments and chemotherapy can increase your risk of activating the virus.
Likelihood of VZV Outbreaks in the General Population
Experts believe that about 1 in 3 people will have an outbreak in their lifetime. Because various diseases can affect the immune system, your risk for activating the virus can vary through the years. Even severe stress can put you at risk for an outbreak of the virus. White people are at greater risk than African-Americans for getting the disease.
Is It Contagious?
Health experts say that this type of virus outbreak is not generally contagious. However, the virus can be transmitted from contact with the open blisters that develop in this condition, so you should keep the area covered with shingles cream and a bandage until the blisters are fully healed.
Ways to Reduce Your Risk
The only definitive way to prevent shingles is to get the vaccine. If you have had chickenpox in the past and are concerned about having an outbreak of the virus, talk to your doctor about whether the vaccine is right for you.
Fast Action Can Help To Reduce the Discomfort
If you think you have symptoms of an outbreak, you should contact your doctor for treatment. In some cases, cases will be mild and can be managed with over-the-counter medications. However, if the rash is near the eyes or ears, vision and hearing can be affected. Your doctor can prescribe antiviral medications to reduce the rash and other symptoms and recommend the best cream for shingles discomfort. Medical intervention can reduce the chances of having the lingering neuralgia that sometimes occurs after an outbreak.
Although having a varicella-zoster virus outbreak can be an unpleasant experience, the condition can be treated with medications to reduce symptoms and hasten its course. If you suspect an outbreak of this virus, make an appointment with your doctor immediately for appropriate treatment to feel more comfortable and get better faster.