Shingles is a painful. blistering skin rash caused by the varicella-zoster virus. The same virus that causes chicken pox is also responsible for shingles.
The National Library of Medicine has this to say about shingles.
After you get chickenpox, the shingles virus remains inactive (becomes dormant) in certain nerves in the body. Shingles occurs after the virus becomes active again in these nerves years later.
The reason the virus suddenly become active again is not clear. Often only one attack occurs.
Shingles may develop in any age group, but you are more likely to develop the condition if:
- You are older than 60
- You had chickenpox before age 1
- Your immune system is weakened by medications or disease
If an adult or child has direct contact with the shingles rash on someone and has not had chickenpox as a child or a chickenpox vaccine, they can develop chickenpox, rather than shingles.
There are shingles vaccines, but they cannot be administered when you have an active flare up. Two popular shingles vaccines are Zostavax and Varivax.
Your doctor may prescribe a medicine that fights the virus, called an antiviral. The drug helps reduce pain and complications and shorten the course of the disease. Acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir may be used.
The medications should be started within 24 hours of feeling pain or burning, and preferably before the blisters appear. The drugs are usually given in pill form, in doses many times greater than those recommended for herpes simplex or genital herpes. Some people may need to receive the medicine through a vein (by IV).
Strong anti-inflammatory medicines called corticosteroids, such as prednisone, may be used to reduce swelling and the risk of continued pain. These drugs do not work in all patients.
Other medicines may include:
- Antihistamines to reduce itching (taken by mouth or applied to the skin)
- Pain medicines
- Zostrix, a cream containing capsaicin (an extract of pepper) that may reduce the risk of postherpetic neuralgia
Cool wet compresses can be used to reduce pain. Soothing baths and lotions, such as colloidal oatmeal bath, starch baths, or calamine lotion, may help to relieve itching and discomfort.
Resting in bed until the fever goes down is recommended.
The skin should be kept clean, and contaminated items should not be reused. Nondisposable items should be washed in boiling water or otherwise disinfected before reuse. The person may need to be isolated while lesions are oozing to prevent infecting other people who have never had chickenpox — especially pregnant women.
Your Medicare Part B covers preventive services, including vaccinations for influenza, pneumonia and Hepatitis B, but not shingles.
Most Medicare Part D plans will cover the shingles vaccine. Check your plan formulary.
Zostavax is a $200 shingles vaccine; Varivax is $100.
If you have trouble paying for your shingles vaccine (or other medications) consider contacting Susan Marx at SPIN (Special Patients in Need).