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Protect Yourself against Shingles

Courtney Langlois RN, BScN

Shingles—maybe you have heard about it from a family member or friend who had it. You may even be personally familiar with this infection and the painful skin rash and complications it is capable of causing. Regardless of what you know about shingles, I have some good news for you—you can protect yourself.

Shingles (also known as herpes zoster) is caused by the same virus as chickenpox (varicella zoster virus). Basically, shingles is the chickenpox virus “waking up” in your body, so to speak.

Shingles can cause complications such as loss of vision (if the infection appears on your face) and excruciating nerve pain, no matter where the infection is located. Rarely, shingles can also lead to complications such as pneumonia, hearing problems, blindness, brain inflammation or death.

You can develop shingles at any time following a chickenpox infection, regardless of your age. However, you are more likely to develop shingles if you are over 50 years of age: two-thirds of shingles cases occur in individuals over 50. The severity of complications increases with age and can include nerve pain, called post-herpetic neuralgia, which often persists for more than 90 days from the onset of the shingles rash.

The best way to protect yourself from shingles is by getting the shingles vaccine. If you are between the ages of 65 and 70, the shingles vaccine is free. It’s safe and effective for the prevention of shingles and its complications. You can get the vaccine through your family doctor or your local health unit. If you are over the age of 50 and not between the ages of 65 to 70, and wish to get the shingles vaccine, you can purchase it privately. If you recently had shingles, you should wait at least one year before receiving the vaccine.

Shingles is a serious infection that can lead to debilitating complications, but the good news is you can protect yourself with the shingles vaccine. Talk to your healthcare provider or local health unit about receiving the shingles vaccine.