LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - The number of people with shingles, a potentially painful virus that hits when a person's immune system is down and stress levels are up, has skyrocketed in recent years.
And while shingles is typically seen in people over fifty, more young adults are being hit by the virus.
THV 11's Liz Massey sat down with Doctor Gary Wheeler, branch chief of infectious diseases at the Arkansas Department of Health, to learn how you can tell if you have shingles and what you can do to protect yourself.
Nationally, researchers says cases of shingles are up six-fold across all age groups. Anyone who's had the chicken pox can get the disease.
"When you first get chicken pox, your body fights it off but it doesn't completely eliminate it," says Dr. Wheeler. "It hides in the nerve tissue. Shingles is when, many years later, your immune system loses its activity, the virus emerges and it causes shingles."
Early symptoms of shingles include headache, sensitivity to light, and flu-like symptoms without a fever. You may then feel itching, tingling, or pain where a band, strip, or small area of rash may appear several days or weeks later. This band of pain and rash is the clearest sign of shingles.
"Sometimes the pain comes before the blisters do," explains Dr. Wheeler.
Treatment of shingles is a combination of antiviral therapy or IV therapy and steriod therapy. Dr. Wheeler says you must see your physician immediately if you suspect you might have shingles.
As for preventative treatment, the shingles vaccine has been approved for people age 50 or older and the CDC recommends a single dose of the vaccine for people aged 60 and older. So what can people under 60 do to protect themselves?
"You go back to what grandma taught you which is to try and live a non-stressful life," says Dr. Wheeler. "It's clear that things that lead to an impairment in your immune system probably allows shingles to break out."