What are the reasons for getting Shingles (Herpes Zoster)?
Shingles, also known as Herpes Zoster, is a viral disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VCV), the same virus that causes chickenpox (also called varicella). Once you got healed from chickenpox, the virus will invade and lie dormant in the nervous system for years or decades. Eventually, the virus in the nerves may be reactivated and develops shingles, if there is any chance that your immune system is weakened. The virus will travel from nerve cells to the nerve endings in the skin, producing distinctive, stripe-like rashes. Blisters will then be formed, and the rash may disseminate to other sites, depending on the spread of infected nerves.
Why Shingles could be particularly critical for individuals aged 50 or above?
When an individual is aging, the immune system could possibly get weaker, whereas it might trigger the virus latent in the nerves to be reactivated. Some studies exemplified that almost 98% of the population has been suffered from chickenpox in their lifetime, and 1/3 of them will have the risk of experiencing shingles. Once an individual is aged above 50, previously infected by, and recovered from chickenpox, then he/she shall be considered as high-risk individual. Any younger individual that is being stressed out or is suffering from lack of sleep, the immune system would be incapacitated, and could be taken into account for causing Shingles.
How can we prevent Shingles?
There is no absolute disease prevention but taking vaccine could be effective in safeguarding an individual from shingles. There are two types of shingles vaccine available in Hong Kong and both men and women are suitable for the vaccination. Shingrix, namely Zoster Vaccine Recombinant, Adjuvanted, as approved by USA FDA and EU EMA, is proved to have more than 90% efficacy. Shingrix is guaranteed to be effective in prevention for Shingles and post-herpetic neuralgia, also reduction in risks of complications. According to researches, Shingrix is found to be inducing almost 97.2% efficacy in protection for individuals aged above 50 or above in 18 countries. Alternatively, Shingrix could yield 95.6% efficacy in protection for Asians aged 50 or above. Any individual who is aged 50 or above, regardless of previous herpes zoster vaccination history, is recommended to take Shingrix (total 2 doses, 2-6 months’ interval) for better and long-lasting protection against Shingles.
Ten most common FAQs about Shingles
- Is it true that only people aged 50 or above needs to take vaccination?
In general, the risks for Shingles increases with age, and thus is common in people aged 50 or above, but it is inevitable that younger generations could also face the same threat. People who suffer from long-term stress and lack of sleep could weaken the immune system, and then will get a higher chance of Shingles.
- If a person who never got Chickenpox does not have the chance to get Shingles, then does he/she still need vaccination?
Individuals who got infected by varicella-zoster virus (VCV) could manifest different symptoms, some could be significant and some could be insubstantial. Some could only have rashes on skin which it does not show any signs of Chickenpox. To safeguard your health from Shingles, it is still recommended to take vaccination.
- Is Shingles lethal?
Shingles is less likely to be deadly, but with higher probabilities to cause serious complications. Skin infection is commonly found for most of the patients who did not treat the blisters properly, and some patients could experience post-herpetic neuralgia, which could last for months and years or even longer. If the virus infection is spread to areas around eyes, it could ultimately result in vision loss. On the other hand, if the infection comes to areas around ears, it could lead to hearing impairment. The virus could travel along to anywhere with nerves.
- Is it true that the patient shall be dead when the rashes spread across the body?
The nerves in human body are usually evenly distributed on the left and right side, and Shingles will usually be developed on either side. The odds are low that both sides are infected, and if that really happens, it implies that the immune system is particularly weak, inferring that there is a relatively high risk of complications and mortality.
- What are the symptoms for Shingles?
The patient could experience headache, fatigue and even fever at the onset of Shingles. After a few days, he/she will start to feel pain or tingling sensation at certain areas even without touching. Alternatively, it is also possible to come across with itchiness and numbness on those areas. Rashes will then be developed 1-3 days later, and the level of severity will depend on individual conditions. Clusters of blisters could also be formed afterwards, then the fluid-filled blisters will be breaking open and crusting over. In general, the skin condition could be restored by 2-3 weeks, but the post-herpetic neuralgia could last for weeks or even months, which could vary among individuals.
- Can Chickenpox and Shingles be considered as the same disease?
Even though the two diseases are caused by the same virus, they cannot be regarded as identical illness. Chickenpox brings on with hundreds of itchy blisters, while most of them could be cured by 5-7 days. On the other hand, Shingles could cause rashes with blisters that last for a month, which could also come along with complications and sequela.
- Is it necessary to receive vaccination even he/she has already recovered from Shingles?
Any individual who has just recovered from Shingles would obtain adequate antibodies to protect his/her health. However, the level of antibodies could diminish as time passed by, thus it is recommended to have vaccination 1 year after the full recovery. There are always probabilities for Shingles to relapse, it is better to protect your health before it’s too late.
- Is it guaranteed not to get Shingles once the vaccines are undertaken? Or could the vaccine be possible to heal the body?
The vaccine could only be acted as a preventive means; it could not offer absolute protection and could not help curing any disease. Taking vaccination, in other words, could help reduce the severity of illness and symptoms, and the risks of complications. At the onset of Shingles, the level of pain could be described as much higher than that of post-surgery and even parturition. Some patients would depict the pain from post-herpetic neuralgia as stabbing, burning or even like electric shocks. It is also possible that some may experience substantial darkened pigmentation on infected skin area, which may subside by months. In a much worse case scenario, it could even leave permanent scars on the infected skin area.
- Is there any diet therapy for the patients suffering from Shingles?
There are no specific diet limitations for the patients, however, in order to strengthen their immune systems, they should be aware of the ingredients they consume, and need to maintain adequate daily water intake and sleep every day. It would help if they refrain from anything uncooked, cold and left overnight.
- Is Shingles contagious?
It is not appropriate to claim that Shingles is contagious. Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VCV), and it will merely be developed along your nerves, which will not infect other people via social activities. However, a person suffering from Shingles can pass the varicella-zoster virus (VCV) to any individual who is not immune to chickenpox. This could possibly occur through contact with the sores or blisters with fluids. Once infected, the individual will develop Chickenpox, but not Shingles. As aforementioned, varicella-zoster virus (VCV) is the cause for chickenpox as well, any individual who had been cured would be immune to the virus and would neither develop Chickenpox nor Shingles.