BY LISA WARREN
Ask anyone who has experienced the painful skin condition known as shingles, and they will likely tell you - "Yes, definitely do anything you can to prevent getting it!"
For children, the prevention of shingles begins with protection against chickenpox through vaccination.
Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox.
After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays in the body in a dormant (inactive) state, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains in a news release.
For reasons that are not fully known, the virus can reactivate years later, causing shingles.
So what if you are an adult who has already had chickenpox as a child - and you're now at risk of developing shingles?
There is a vaccination available to help protect adults against shingles.
This vaccine (whose brand name is Zostavax®) has been shown through studies to reduce the risk of shingles and its associated pain in persons age 60 years and older.
The Shingles Prevention Study found that the shingles vaccine "significantly reduced disease" in persons age 60 years and older, the CDC says.
Thus, the vaccine is currently being recommended by the CDC for those age 60 and older.
At this time, CDC does not have a recommendation for routine use of shingles vaccine in persons 50 through 59 years old. However, the vaccine is approved by FDA for people in this age group.
"Even if you have had shingles, you can still receive the shingles vaccine to help prevent future occurrences of the disease," the CDC says.
A shingles vaccination doesn't come cheap, though. The shot typically costs about $200-$300 - and insurance coverage isn't as readily available as it is for many other vaccines.
Persons are advised to check with their individual health insurance provider to see if they are covered for the vaccine.
Statistics show that about one-third of persons will experience shingles at some point in their lives.
There are an estimated one million cases of shingles report each year in the U.S., the CDC says.
Persons of any age who have recovered from chickenpox - including children - may develop shingles. However, it is more likely to occur in older adults.
About half of all cases occur among men and women 60 years old or older, the CDC says.
The first sign of shingles typically comes with pain, tingling, burning, or numbness of the skin - followed by a rash a few days later.
Most commonly, the rash occurs in a single stripe around either the left or the right side of the body. In other cases, the rash occurs on one side of the face. In rare cases (usually among people with weakened immune systems), the rash may be more widespread and look similar to a chickenpox rash. Shingles can affect the eye and cause loss of vision.
Other symptoms of shingles can include
* chills, and/or
* upset stomach.
In most cases, a shingles infection will clear up in about 1-2 weeks. However, about 10 percent of cases will result in more serious complications, which can result in pain for three months or longer.
People who develop shingles typically have only one episode in their lifetime. In rare cases, however, a person can have a second or even a third episode, the CDC says.
People who have medical conditions that keep their immune systems from working properly, such as certain cancers, including leukemia and lymphoma, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and people who receive immunosuppressive drugs, such as steroids and drugs given after organ transplantation, are also at greater risk of getting shingles, the CDC adds.
Several antiviral medicines, such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir, are available to treat shingles after the condition appears.
These medicines will help shorten the length and severity of the illness.
But to be effective, they must be started as soon as possible after the rash appears.
Thus, people who have or think they might have shingles should call their healthcare provider as soon as possible, the CDC advises.
Shingles cannot be passed from one person to another. However, the virus that causes shingles can be spread from a person with active shingles to a person who has never had chickenpox.
In such cases, the person exposed to the virus might develop chickenpox, but they would not develop shingles, the CDC says.
The virus is spread through direct contact with fluid from the rash blisters, not through sneezing, coughing or casual contact, the CDC says.
A person with shingles can spread the virus when the rash is in the blister-phase. A person is not infectious before blisters appear. Once the rash has developed crusts, the person is no longer contagious.
If you have shingles, the CDC recommends the following:
* Keep the rash covered.
* Do not touch or scratch the rash.
* Wash your hands often.
* Until your rash has developed crusts, avoid contact with pregnant women who have never had chickenpox or the varicella vaccine; premature or low-birth-weight infants, and persons with suppressed immune systems, such as those undergoing chemotherapy.