My PSA – Shingles
Where have I been you ask?
Oh, you know, just recovering from SHINGLES!
What 29 year old gets shingles? THIS GIRL!
Let’s talk shingles for a minute….
What is shingles?
Shingles is the name commonly used for herpes zoster, an infection that shows up as a painful skin rash with blisters, usually on part of one side of the body (left or right), often in a strip. Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus.
How do people get shingles?
People get shingles when the virus that causes chicken pox, varicella zoster, is reactivated in their body. The varicella zoster virus doesn’t leave the body, even after a person has recovered from chicken pox. It can flare up again, causing shingles, often many years after a person has had chicken pox. The virus tends to reactivate when a person’s immune system is weakened because of another health problem.
What are the symptoms of shingles?
People with shingles often experience pain, tingling or itching and then a painful rash. The rash can occur anywhere on the body, although it is usually in one strip on the right or left side of the body. The rash consists of groups of small, fluid-filled blisters that dry, scab over, and heal (like chickenpox) in a few weeks. Healing is usually complete, but some people may be left with scars.
What are the risks associated with shingles?
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.
How do I know if I have shingles?
A doctor can diagnose shingles by examining the rash and, if necessary, taking a sample of the fluid from one of the blisters.
Who is most at risk of getting shingles?
Although any person who has had chickenpox can get shingles, most people who do so are older than 50 or have a weakened immune system. For example, a person might be susceptible if they have cancer, take medicines that weaken their immune system, or have HIV or AIDS, even if they are younger than 50.
How do I protect myself from shingles?
The best protection from shingles is vaccination. People can still get shingles after receiving the varicella vaccine but they are 4 to 12 times less likely to do so than if they haven’t been immunized. The vaccine is recommended for most people 60 and older. Some people should not receive the vaccine; for example, those with certain allergies or who are taking certain medications. A health professional can advise who should not be vaccinated due to contraindications to the vaccine.
People between 50 and 59 years can request the vaccine from their health professional.
What is the treatment for shingles?
Shingles is often treated with antiviral medication to reduce the severity and duration of the symptoms. This medication works best if taken in the first three days after the rash appears. A doctor might also prescribe additional medication for pain and swelling.
My personal experience? It was hell. The most intense pain I have ever felt – and I just had surgery!
It all started on Thursday, May 18, 2017 – I was going about my morning, getting the kids ready for school, when I felt a sharp pain my lower back, right side. I thought I had pulled something, or pinched a nerve from bending down. Friday the pain continued, but worse. Saturday came and I called everywhere to get a massage appointment thinking it would help with the pain. However, I couldn’t get a spot until Sunday morning. That night I attended a wedding – all dressed up with a smile on, when really I was dying inside. I couldn’t stand too long, couldn’t sit too long. During my massage appointment on Sunday, I spent the entire 90 minutes crying from the amount of pain I felt. On Monday morning, I woke up to a sore back and when I went to go rub it with my hands, I felt a rough patch. Low and behold, I had a rash. Right away I knew I had shingles. As someone with an autoimmune disease, it wasn’t uncommon I would develop it. Within about two hours, the rash then spread to my stomach. Off to the Emergency Room we went. It was a holiday for us, and so the walk-in clinic wasn’t open.
Four weeks later the rash, blisters, and scabs are gone – thankfully so is the pain! However, the nerve damage is still there. The area that was effected now feels numb, like scar tissue. And boy, does it ever itch! Thankfully, with the blisters being gone, it’s much easier to apply some soothing lotions to the area.
See below for the photos I took showing the progression of the rash.
The scariest part of this whole mess, was not the actual shingles – sure they were sore, itchy and I was bed ridden for a solid week and was in pain beyond belief for about two weeks- rather, I had to miss my monthly dose of Remicade. See, Shingles is a viral infection that can be a severe illness complicated by pneumonia, inflammation of the brain or liver, a low platelet count and prolonged fever. Shingles can be severe in people on treatment such as infliximab (Remicade) due to its’ effects on the immune system. The risk of taking Remicade during a course of active shingles would mean the possibility of hampering the immune systems ability to fight the infection and resulting in more sever complications of shingles. I was due for a round, at four weeks, on May 30th. However, to date, I have yet to receive an infusion. I am schedule for one this coming Thursday, the 29th, which would have me at eight weeks since my last round.
Thankfully, I haven’t noticed many changes; one or two more bowel movements a day, a bit more fatigued as of late, but nothing major. This leaves me hopeful that my body is doing right by itself and working well without a frequent dose.
I think it’s extremely important to speak to your doctor about receiving the shingles vaccine. I wish one of my many doctors had suggested it to me, prior to going on Remicade. With Remicade, I am unable to receive any live vaccines. So please, please, please do yourself a favour and go get vaccinated!
I’ll let you know when I’m officially healed.
*Information regarding shingles, provided by the Government of Canada Website - http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/id-mi/shingles-zona-fs-eng.php*