Though considered a childhood disease, chickenpox can have long-lasting effects well into adulthood. That’s because after you have had chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in the nerve tissue near the spinal cord and brain. Years later, the virus may reactivate as shingles—an infection that causes a painful rash. Tennova Healthcare is encouraging East Tennesseans to understand their risks for shingles and what they should do if they develop symptoms.
“One in three Americans will experience shingles in their lifetime,” said Kaneez Leonard, M.D., family medicine physician with Tennova Primary Care – Farragut. “The first symptom of shingles is pain, which can be quite intense. Typically, a rash follows next, though some people may experience the discomfort of shingles without a rash. Patients often report itching or a tingling sensation in the area where the rash subsequently develops.
“Most often shingles appears as a single stripe of blisters that wraps around either the left or the right side of the torso,” Dr. Leonard said. “The rash lasts from two to four weeks, though some people experience pain even after the rash goes away.”
There are several factors that may increase your risk for shingles. They include:
• Age: Shingles is most common in people over age 50, and the risk increases with age.
• Certain diseases: Conditions that weaken the immune system, such as cancer and HIV/AIDS, can also increase the risk of shingles.
• Radiation therapy or chemotherapy: These treatments, which can lower resistance to disease, may also trigger shingles.
• Certain medications: Taking particular drugs, such as anti-rejection medications following transplant surgery or the prolonged use of steroids, can increase the likelihood of contracting shingles.
“There is no cure for shingles, but prescription drugs can speed recovery and reduce the risk of complications,” said Patrick Collins, D.O., family medicine physician with East Tennessee Health Center in Morristown. “A physician can also prescribe creams or painkillers. It is also recommended that those 60 or older who have had chickenpox get the shingles vaccine to help prevent a recurrence of the virus as shingles.”
Visit a physician promptly if you have symptoms of shingles, especially if:
• You experience pain or rash around the eyes;
• You are 70 or older;
• You or someone in your immediate family has a weakened immune system; or
• The rash is widespread and painful.
“For people who have had chickenpox, shingles is not contagious,” Dr. Collins said. “However, someone who has not had chickenpox and who has direct contact with the shingles rash may contract chickenpox, which can be very dangerous for anyone with a weak immune system, newborns or pregnant women. If you have shingles, you should avoid physical interaction with these people until your blisters scab over and you are no longer contagious.”
Talk to your primary care physician immediately if you suspect shingles. If you are over age 60, ask your doctor about the shingles vaccine. For a physician referral, call 1-855-TENNOVA (836-6682) or visit Tennova.com.
Tennova Healthcare offers preventive, diagnostic and treatment services at Physicians Regional Medical Center, Turkey Creek Medical Center, North Knoxville Medical Center, Jefferson Memorial Hospital, Lakeway Regional Hospital, LaFollette Medical Center and Newport Medical Center. With more than 200 primary care physicians working in collaboration with other medical specialists at multiple locations across the region, the health system is dedicated to offering quality care for every member of the family — close to home.