Shingles is a painful viral illness. There's a lot of misinformation about the condition - its causes and treatment and even how to identify the telltale rash. Here are seven common myths about shingles, a.k.a. herpes zoster, along with photos that can help you know what to look out for...
Myth: Shingles affects only elderly people
While it's true that shingles is more common in older people, the ailment can also occur in healthy young people - even children. People whose immunity has been weakened by HIV/AIDS, cancer or treatment with certain drugs are at increased risk of getting shingles.
The first symptom of shingles is usually pain, tingling, or a burning sensation on one side. Red patches and blisters typically appear on a narrow area from the spine around the sides of the body to the belly or chest.
Myth: Rash is the only big concern
Shingles can also cause fever, headache, chills, upset stomach, and severe pain - which can last for weeks, months, or even years. In rare instances, shingles can cause pneumonia, hearing problems, and vision loss. It can even be fatal.
Myth: There is no way to avoid getting shingles
Until recently, there was no way to cut your risk of developing shingles. But now there's a shingles vaccine called Zostavax. It's recommended for people age 60 or older - even those who have already had shingles, as well as those who have no recollection of having had chickenpox.
Research has shown that the vaccine reduces the risk of developing shingles by half. The vaccine is off limits for some people, including pregnant women, people who have HIV/AIDS, and cancer patients who have had radiation or chemotherapy, as well as people who are allergic to any component of the vaccine.
The rash often produces small blisters, like the ones shown here.
Myth: Shingles is rare
There are about one million new cases of shingles in the U.S. each year, according to the CDC.
The rash may involve the face, eyes, mouth, and ears, as well as the extremities.
Myth: Shingles is the same disease as chickenpox
Chickenpox and shingles are caused by the varicella zoster virus. But chickenpox is a generally mild illness that affects children. Shingles is a reactivation of the virus years after the chickenpox has cleared up.
The blisters break, forming small ulcers that dry to form crusts that fall off in two to three weeks. Scarring is rare.
Myth: Shingles isn't contagious
You can't catch shingles from someone who has the disease. But if you've never had chickenpox, you can be infected with the virus that causes shingles - and come down with chickenpox. The virus is spread not by sneezing, coughing, or causal contact, but by direct contact with the fluid from blisters caused by the rash that characterizes shingles.
If you have shingles, keep the rash covered and do not touch or scratch. Wash your hands often. Until the rash crusts over, avoid contact with pregnant women who have never had chickenpox or gotten the varicella vaccine, people with impaired immunity, and premature or low birth-weight infants.
Myth: Once you've had shingles, you can't get it again
People who develop shingles generally have only a single episode. But it's not unheard of for people to have a second or even a third episode.