My neighbour had shingles a few months ago and is still having pain. What is shingles?

Shingles is a rash that develops when the virus that causes chickenpox is reactivated. When we have the chickenpox (varicella virus), we experience a fever and then a blistering itchy rash that goes away over days to weeks. Most of us had this as children. This virus does not leave our bodies but instead lies dormant (sleeping) in a nerve root. At some time in our lives, the virus can be reactivated and a new rash will develop which is generally painful; this is shingles.

The first sign of shingles is a tingling sensation in a specific area in the body where a blistering rash will develop a few days later. The rash is confined to the nerve root where the virus was sleeping so the rash will not spread to other areas of the body. Once again the rash will go away over a week or so but this time there may be pain associated with irritation of the nerves. This is called post herpetic neuralgia. This nerve pain may last months and is what patients most remember about their experience with shingles.

Treatment can include oral anti-viral medication and topical creams that reduce some of the nerve pain. The oral medication works best if started as soon as you notice symptoms; ideally in the first 72 hours. There is also a vaccine recommended for adults age 50 and older that reduces both the risk of developing shingles and the severity of the illness. This vaccine is not covered by OHIP but may be covered by your extended health insurance plan. Please speak with one of our health providers to see if the vaccine is right for you.