Shingles

What is shingles?

Shingles is a painful skin rash with blisters. It is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. The virus stays in people’s nerve cells and can become active again later in life and cause shingles.

You cannot get shingles if you have never had chickenpox, but anyone who has had chicken pox can get shingles.

About 1 out of 3 people will get shingles in their lifetime. Shingles is more common in people aged 65 years and over and those with immune systems weakened by medication or disease.

See pictures of the shingles rash and blisters.

How is shingles spread?

You cannot get shingles from someone with shingles. However, if you have never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine, you can get chickenpox by being in direct contact with shingle blisters. Shingles is not spread by sneezing or coughing. Once the blisters crust over the person can no longer spread the virus.

What are the symptoms of shingles?

The most common symptoms are pain, itching or tingling of the skin. This is followed by a painful rash with blisters. The rash is usually only on a small area on one side of the body. Other early symptoms can include headache, fever, chills and nausea. The rash from shingles usually lasts two to four weeks.

What are the risks symptoms of shingles?

About one in five people who get shingles will have severe pain after the rash clears up. This pain can months or even years. This pain is known as post-herpetic neuralgia.

Rare complications of shingles include scarring, pneumonia, loss of hearing or vision, swelling of the brain (encephalitis) and bacterial superinfections of the rash.

How can I prevent getting shingles?

Prevent your children from getting shingles later in life by getting them immunized with the chickenpox vaccine. As an adult the best way to not get shingles is to get the shingles vaccine. The shingles vaccine is safe. It is much safer to get the vaccine than to get the disease. When you get immunized with the shingles vaccine you help protect others from chicken pox.

People with shingles can prevent spreading the virus by covering their rash, not touching or scratching the rash and washing their hands often.

Who should get the shingles vaccine?

Canada’s National Advisory Committee on immunization (NACI) recommends the shingles vaccine for people 60 years of age and older. The shingles vaccine is not free in B.C. at this time.

How much does the shingles vaccine cost?

The shingles vaccine is available at most travel clinics and pharmacies for about $200. Check with your provider to see if your health insurance plans cover the cost of the vaccine.

Get immunized against shingles by making an appointment with your doctor, pharmacist (for those 5 years and older), Public Health or travel clinic

To book an immunization appointment with Public Health:

Residents of Fraser East (Mission, Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Agassiz and Hope), call 604-702-4906

Residents in any other area of Fraser Health, call 604-476-7087 

Resources

For more information about shingles and the shingles vaccine, go to:

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