Link exists between shingles, chickenpox

Published: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 9:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 9:41 p.m.

Aging has its rewards as well as a few downfalls. I prefer to spend most of my time abiding by the words of a song: "Man, you've got to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative."

To a point, this works for me, but in the complexities of life, there has to be balance. Health is certainly one of life's more profound areas that require a different look and characterization. So, to look at health realistically, we have to be aware that as we age, we are susceptible to a greater variety of health conditions.

Some of them are life-threatening while others can be extremely uncomfortable but are not life-threatening. One of those painful, but not life-threatening conditions is caused by chicken pox. What may be a less known fact about chicken pox is that the virus that causes it can remain quietly in our bodies for years, and for some, it reappears, usually after the age of 50, as shingles.

After the chicken pox is over or after we have had the immunization, the virus known as herpes zoster can remain in a non-threatening way, resting on a nerve(s) forever. If you are a person who has experienced shingles, you are very aware of the level of discomfort that accompanies it.

The website WebMD describes shingles as a viral infection caused by the virus herpes zoster, which affects either the right or left side of the body. The rash appears as blisters in a band, on a strip or clumped in a small area. Shingles is most common in older adults and people who have weak immune systems because of stress, injury or certain medicines.

When this virus appears as shingles, it cannot be spread to another person as shingles, but if there is contact with a person who has not had chickenpox, according to WebMD, it is possible for that person to get chickenpox.

This makes it very important for a person with shingles to stay away from youngsters who are too young to get the immunization, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends administering the immunization in two doses to children. The first dose should be given to children who are 12 to 15 months; the second dose should be administered between ages 4 to 6 years.

The mention of herpes sometimes causes great concern because this virus is associated with a number of uncomfortable conditions. Some of them are not as serious as others. The distinction between the types of the virus are explained at

It states that the virus that causes shingles and chicken pox is not the same as the herpes viruses that cause genital herpes, which can be sexually transmitted, or the strain that causes mouth sores or fever blisters.

Shingles may not be easily identified when the symptoms first appear. A few days to a week, the feeling of burning and sensitive skin may be the only indication that the virus is rearing its ugly head. Blisters that make up the rash may follow the pattern of an entire nerve. In more complicated cases, more than one nerve may be affected.

There are antiviral medications, which, if started within the first 72 hours of the appearance of the rash, can help relieve the symptoms of shingles. Other treatment involves pain medication, prescribed as well over the counter, including anti-inflammatory medications.

According to WebMD, it may also be helpful to use cold compresses and such anti-itch lotions such as Calamine. It is always a good idea to keep the area clean in order to prevent a secondary infection from developing.

I was excited when I heard about the possibility of getting the vaccine that prevents shingles. I don't know of anyone who has had the vaccine, but it may be something that you should discuss with your doctor if you are within the targeted group of people who are susceptible to getting shingles.

WebMd saysthat if you are over 60, the shingles vaccine may help you avoid the disease. And if you've had shingles, the vaccine may help prevent a recurrence.

With this vaccine on the market, it seems a great opportunity to prevent the occurrence of a very painful condition. I don't know of very many people who have availed themselves of this vaccine. One of the drawbacks, and in some situations the main one, is the cost of the vaccine. I found out that Medicare does not cover the vaccine and its cost is prohibitive for most people who pay out of pocket.

Awareness of this virus is essential. Most of us will not have to worry about shingles, but if it does occur, be sure that you pay attention to the symptoms and contact your doctor as soon as possible.

If you have access to a computer, you can view a picture of the rash on either of the websites mentioned in this column.

Vivian Filer is a retired professor of nursing at Santa Fe College. E-mail your questions, with "Health Files" in the subject line, to

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