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Shake the shingles away

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Symptoms of shingles and how to deal with and make sure you’re vaccinated.

If you’ve ever had chickenpox, you are at risk for shingles. Why? Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a viral infection that occurs when varicella zoster (or the chickenpox virus) is reactivated within your body. The virus needs to already be present for you to develop this condition.

Reactivation is commonly the result of stress, illness, or decreasing immunity. Shingles itself is not contagious, meaning you can’t “catch” shingles from someone who is actively experiencing it. However, a person who has never had chickenpox and is exposed to someone with an active shingles infection may develop chickenpox.

Roughly 30% of all Canadians develop shingles, with most episodes occurring after the age of 50. Shingles typically presents as a painful, red, blister-like rash that affects one side of the body. If you suspect that you are expe- riencing an episode of shingles, you should seek medical advice as soon as possible. Initiation of anti-viral medication within the first 72 hours lowers the risk of future complications such as post-shingles pain.

People over 50 years of age should get vaccinated, irrespective of their history with either chickenpox or shingles, as this is the best method of prevention. Shingrix is the preferred vaccine in Canada. Shingrix is recommended for both those previously vaccinated with the older Shingles vaccine and those unlucky enough to have already experi- enced an episode, (as long as one year has passed since your last vaccination/ episode).

Shingrix is a two-dose vaccine, with doses given two to six months apart. This vaccine has an adjuvant, or substance that helps activate the immune system, which can increase soreness in the arm that receives the vaccination. But trust me, it’s worth the pain—talk to your pharmacist today.

Author: Heather Cross a certified geriatric pharmacist, working as a licensed pharmacist since 2009. Heather regularly contributes to Optimyz print and digital editions.

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