Shingles: Chicken Pox’s Big Brother

Thought chicken pox was for kids? Well, it has big brother — and like many big brothers, it’s considerably stronger. Shingles is a viral infection that occurs in people who have had either chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine. If these people get reinfected with the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chicken pox, they won’t get chicken pox. They’ll get shingles.

Shingles first appears as pain, and after a few days, as a red rash. However, it can get much worse from there. In fact, shingles poses serious risks in the elderly.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one third of Americans will develop shingles over the course of their lifetime. Adults over sixty, however, are at greatest risk. Those over 80 have a 50% likelihood of contracting shingles. In addition to age, the other main risk factor for shingles is having a weakened immune system, whether from disease, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or immuno-suppressing medication, such as steroids and anti-rejection medication for transplanted organs.

Not only are seniors at increased risk of developing shingles, they are also at greater risk of having serious complications from the disease. The most common complication of shingles is continuing pain, lasting long after the rash has cleared up. This condition is known as postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). It can be debilitating — and can even last for years. Both the risk and the severity of PHN increases with age. Other complications in the elderly include bacterial infections, hearing loss, facial paralysis, blindness, and rarely, encephalitis. Moreover, studies have shown significant increases in the risk of strokes and heart attacks in the week following an outbreak of shingles.

Anti-viral medication can reduce the severity of shingles, but the best medicine is prevention. A highly effective vaccine is available to prevent this infection. Medicare Part D, as well as several private health insurance plans, cover the shingles vaccine. Depending on the plan, there may be some cost to the patient. But don’t let that deter you: GlaxoSmithKline, the manufacturer of the Shingrix shingles vaccine, offers vaccines to adults who are unable to afford the vaccine, depending on eligibility.

If you have had chicken pox or the chicken pox vaccine, speak to your doctor to see what you should do to avoid your risk of shingles.

At Hamilton Grove Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, in Hamilton, NJ, our care programs are designed specifically to meet the unique needs and interests of seniors and long-term care patients. We emphasize restorative care, maximizing each patient’s potential to regain and maintain function and mobility.

We foster an environment that is cheerful and enthusiastic, so residents truly relish and appreciate life.

Our outstanding Social Services team works hard to ensure that every resident thrives socially, emotionally, and spiritually.

We promote a culture of independence, crucial for emotional, social, and physical health. Residents are encouraged to choose their activity and meal preferences, and to perform tasks and activities as self-sufficiently as possible.

We carefully select, train and re-train our wonderful caregivers, who are especially sensitive to the needs of our long-term care patients. They treat residents with love, compassion, and dignity.

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