Does anybody know anything about shingles? A relative seems to have it.

20 thoughts on “Shingles”

  1. “Does anybody know anything about shingles?”

    Sure: Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful blistering rash. It’s caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, and the elderly people who develop shingles in late life have been carrying the virus in their bodies ever since they had chickenpox as children. (And who should have gotten the vaccine for shingles prevention that’s been available for over a decade now.)

    The blisters are contagious until they crust over, and your relative needs to stay away from people who have never had chickenpox and have never received the chickenpox vaccine.


    1. Younger people can get it, too, though. Not just the elderly. And often those people have already been vaccinated against chicken pox.


      1. “Younger people can get it, too, though.”

        True, but it’s rare in young people unless they have a weakened immune system from some underlying cause like HIV or cancer.

        The CDC doesn’t recommend the shingles vaccine in most cases for people under 50, and most insurance policies won’t pay for the vaccine for people under 60.


          1. “Isn’t he too young to get it?”

            As I said, “It’s rare in young people unless they have a weakened immune system from some underlying cause like HIV or cancer.”

            Only your relative’s physician knows the specifics about his condition and medical history. I hope your relative is under good medical care.


          2. Nope. My sister had it mildly in her 20s (though she was going through a stressful period at the time) and my husband had a bad case of it last year (aged 41). Extreme pain for a several weeks (even the touch of clothing was painful) followed by months of intermittent pain and itching (which apparently still occurs from time to time, even though we are now 1 year on). I suspect my husband does have a weakened immune system, however, as he never properly recovered from a bout of mono he had a few years ago. Nevertheless, when he had it, we found out that a surprising number of similarly aged, otherwise healthy people had also had it so it doesn’t seem to be as rare in younger people as it once was. Your relative may find this interesting:
            After witnessing what my husband went through, I really want the new, more effective vaccine that recently came out, but I can’t get it until I’m 50.


            1. OK, now I’m really freaked out. After I had PUPPS, I’m terrified of skin conditions.

              I’m so sorry your husband had it!

              I’m so getting vaccinated.


              1. “I’m so getting vaccinated.”

                You may have trouble finding a physician who will prescribe you the currently recommended shingles vaccine (“Shingrix”) or a pharmacy who will fill the prescription, since there’s currently a nationwide shortage of the vaccine for seniors in the recommended age group.


      1. “Is it always extremely painful?”

        “Always” is an extreme word. Every patient I ever saw with that condition was in considerable pain.

        Your relative should still get the singles vacccine. The vaccine may make her condition less painful and shorten its duration.


          1. “Can you still get it at 48?”

            The shingles vaccine greatly decreases the chances of developing shingles but isn’t 100% effective in preventing it. The vaccine is NOT recommended for most people under 50 for a variety of benefit-versus-risk reasons.

            Your relative’s physician needs to evaluate why your relative developed singles at an unusually young age, and determine the proper course of treatment accordingly.


      2. No, not always. I got it near my collarbone last year (I was 31 at the time) and had no pain or even discomfort whatsoever. No blistering or oozing either. When I went to the doctor and told her that I suspected it was shingles, she immediately dismissed that possibility when I told her it wasn’t painful. No pain, no shingles. Then she looked at my rash closely and said that, never mind, it was classic shingles. A visit to an infectious disease specialist followed by several blood tests confirmed it.

        I got it because of immunosuppression thanks to a medicine I take for a disease I have. Definitely got the vaccine afterwards, as I’ll likely be immunosuppressed for the rest of my life and shingles tends to recur in people like me.


  2. It’s caused by the Varicella zoster virus (the same virus that causes chicken pox).

    You can get shingles if you’ve had chicken pox before, and you can get shingles if you’ve had the chicken pox vaccine. One of my coworkers has described it as “chicken pox coming back” but apparently far more painful. Pus from the sores is contagious, but as long as they’re covered and there’s no fever or anything a lot of people still go to work. It can come on spontaneously in some cases, or it can come on as a result of exposure to chicken pox or shingles.

    If you haven’t had chicken pox or haven’t been vaccinated, you can get chicken pox from someone with shingles.


  3. I don’t think there’s any need for you to panic. Shingles can be nasty for the very elderly or those with compromised immune systems, but for most people it’s a one off occurrence with full recovery within a few weeks, similar to chicken pox. I’m not dismissing those who have had nasty experiences but I suspect anyone who’s had a mild case will quickly forget it and not comment! In most healthy adults it’s just a mild nuisance for a couple of weeks.
    In the UK there is no widely used chicken pox vaccine, yet we don’t have serious epidemics of chicken pox or shingles.
    Hope this helps.


  4. I had a friend last year (late 40s) come down with it (after an exceptionally stressful period of time at work). He said it was painful but not horribly painful and it cleared up in a couple of weeks and that was that.


  5. People can carry the virus for years without symptoms, until something happens that weakens the immune system. That something could be another illness, or something as mundane as stress. Yes, shingles are painful. The vaccines work to prevent an outbreak, but don’t necessarily kill the virus.

    There are two version of the vaccine and the vaccine is now recommended for anyone age 50 and older.


  6. I haven’t read all of the comments above, so I may be repeating what others have already said…

    I got shingles a few years ago, which was when I was about 47. It was very painful. I got them on the lower left side of my abdomen. But I didn’t know what it was. I thought I might be experiencing some kind of internal organ problem, so I made a doctor’s appointment right away. The doctor saw that I had shingles, and then he gave me an oral medication (I think) to take, which solved the problem quickly.


    1. We also thought he had internal issues, maybe gallbladder. I now see gallbladder issues in everything. Somehow, we didn’t consider shingles because I thought it was a problem people have later in life. We have a relative in his sixties, and he had a very severe form.

      I’m glad the medication helped you!!


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