There is a growing number of cases of shingles in Canada. Approximately 130,000 Canadians are diagnosed with shingles each year, and that number is rising.
What are Shingles?
Shingles is a viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus can remain dormant in the nerve cells for years. However, in some cases, the virus can reactivate and cause shingles.
Shingles typically presents as a painful rash that usually appears on one side of the body or face. Symptoms can also appear on the face, eyes, mouth, and ears. The rash consists of small blisters that may scab over in a matter of days. Other symptoms may include itching, tingling, or a burning sensation in the affected area. This is most often the waist, chest, abdomen, or back.
Anyone who has had chickenpox can later develop shingles. Shingles is caused when the virus that causes chickenpox is reactivated in the body. The virus doesn't leave the body, even after a person has recovered from chickenpox. It can flare up again, causing shingles, often many years after a person has had chickenpox. The virus tends to reactivate when another health problem weakens a person's immune system.
People with shingles often experience a variety of symptoms. Here is a list of the most common.
a constant dull, burning, or gnawing pain, or sharp, stabbing pain that comes and goes
a skin rash that resembles chickenpox, but only affects certain areas
fluid-filled blisters that develop as part of the rash
For shingles that infect the eye, this can cause pain, redness, and swelling in and around the eye, as well as temporary or permanent loss of vision.
What are the risks?
Any person who has had chickenpox can get shingles. However, most people who do so are over the age of 50 or have a weakened immune system. According to the Government of Canada website on Infectious Diseases:
Some people experience pain around the rash site for a month or more–pain that is severe enough to interfere with daily activities.
Scratching the rash can also cause a secondary infection if harmful bacteria get into the sores.
Shingles on the face can involve the eyes, which is serious because it can cause scarring and blindness.
The occurrence and severity of shingles and its complications increase with age.
The best protection from shingles is vaccination. The Canadian government recommends the vaccine for most people 60 and older. Always consult your doctor or other health care professionals if you should be vaccinated, depending on your personal medical history.
If you suspect you have shingles, it is advisable to seek medical attention. A healthcare professional can make a diagnosis based on the appearance of the rash and associated symptoms. Early treatment with antiviral medication can help reduce the severity and duration of the illness.
If you suspect you have shingles or are concerned with changes to your health, consult your doctor immediately. They will be able to diagnose and provide treatment, such as antiviral medication.In addition to medication, there are other ways to manage the symptoms of shingles. Over-the-counter pain relievers can help alleviate discomfort, and calamine lotion or cool compresses can soothe itching and irritation. It is important to keep the affected area clean and avoid scratching or picking at the blisters to prevent infection.
If you have shingles, it is important to take steps to prevent the spread of the virus. Avoid close contact with individuals who have not had chickenpox or the vaccine, especially pregnant women, newborns, and individuals with weakened immune systems. Covering the rash with a bandage or clothing can also reduce the risk of transmission.
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