Over 60? What you need to know about shingles

Did you have chickenpox when you were younger? Those red itchy spots all over were caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes shingles. The varicella zoster virus typically stays “dormant” in your nerve roots, but in some people it “wakes up” causing shingles.

“Some people can initially feel flu-like symptoms and sensitivity or itching of the skin. This is followed by a red blistering rash often occurring on the torso, but can also occur anywhere on the body. It typically appears in the form of a band, and only one side of your body,” says  Dr. Rebecca Stoller, Physician in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at North York General Hospital and Assistant Professor, Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto.

Dr. Rebecca Stoller, Family Physician, North York General Hospital

Family Physician Dr. Rebecca Stoller

“Shingles can be a very painful rash and is best treated within 72 hours of seeing it,” says Dr. Stoller. “Both men and women can get shingles but the older you are, the greater the chance of developing shingles.

Dr. Stoller highlights that it can be treated with antiviral medication as well as pain killers as the rash can be quite painful. Treating shingles with antiviral medication can lower the risk of developing one of the complications called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) which is pain syndrome that can last well after the rash has resolved. For some, the pain goes away after the rash disappears, while for others it can last for months or even years.

Shingles affect more than 42,000 people in Ontario every year.

The older you are, the greater the chance of developing shingles.

Free vaccine for adults between 65 and 70

Dr. Stoller advises that a preventative vaccine, Zostavax, is recommended for adults over the age of 60, and approved for use for those over 50. It can also be given to adults who have had shingles to help lower the risk of developing it again; however they should wait one year after the illness to get the vaccine. Recently, the Ontario government has made it free for those between 65 to 70 years old, saving seniors approximately $170.

For more information about the vaccine, please consult with your family physician.

This article first appeared in the November 2016 issue of The Pulse.

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