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General News · 21st July 2011
Cortes Health Centre
Shingles (Varicella-zoster virus)

Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus. It is the same virus that causes chicken pox. When an individual gets chicken pox, the virus does not die but rather hibernates in nerve roots called sensory ganglia. In some people and in some circumstances the virus can become reactivated. This is what is known as shingles.
Shingles can occur in anyone who has had the chicken pox. Any adult has a 25% chance of developing shingles. Age increases the chances of getting shingles. An adult over the age of 60 is ten times more likely to develop shingles. Other individuals at higher risk include those whose immune systems are stressed or compromised. This includes individuals with HIV, those with cancer and those with autoimmune disorders who take oral prednisone for long periods of time. In rare circumstances an individual with shingles can pass the virus onto someone else. In order for this to occur the individual must come into direct contact with the fluid from a shingles sore. It is then possible that this individual would get chicken pox if they are not immune. People who have had chicken pox previously, will sometimes get shingles when they are exposed to the chicken pox virus later in life.
The first sign of shingles is often a skin sensitivity, or numbness or tingling that develops in one particular area and side of the body. It often intensifies to an itching, burning or sharp pain. Because the virus hides in nerves, the symptoms develop along specific nerves roots, in areas called dermatomes. This is followed by a red rash; within the reddened areas, fluid will collect in blisters. Common areas for the rash to appear are around the trunk or one side of the face or eye. Some people can also experience fever, chills, headache and an upset stomach. The rash and blisters usually disappear within a few weeks; sometimes it takes longer for the pain to disappear.
Although there is no cure for shingles, it is important to seek medical attention as early as possible as prescription antiviral medication can lessen the severity and length of an attack. Taking medication can reduce ones chances by half of developing a side-effect called postherpetic neuralgia, where the shingles pain persists for long after the rash has healed. Having one outbreak of shingles does not prevent you from getting shingles again.
There is a vaccine available called Zostavax. Anyone over the age of 50 could consider getting the vaccine. This vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of getting shingles by 50%. Zostavax can be obtained through the Travel Health Clinic in Courtney, which is open Thursday through Saturday. You do not need a prescription to obtain the vaccine but you need to call for an appointment. The vaccine is not covered under MSP but may be covered under some extended health plans. Call 1-877-233-3346 to make an appointment. Shopper’s Drug Mart at the Tyee Plaza also offers the vaccine to those with a prescription. Again, call to make an appointment, as you will be given the vaccine at the store. The cost of the vaccine is approximately $200.
As of July 20, 2011 there is currently no vaccine in stock either at the travel clinic or at Shopper’s Drug Mart due to a shortage of the vaccine. You can call either to have your name added to a wait list.