Whanganui Regional Health Network raises awareness about shingles

11 June 2015
The Whanganui Regional Health Network is urging anyone who suspects they might have shingles to contact their doctor and have their rash checked as soon as possible.
Whanganui doctor Dr Willem van Niekerk says he doesn’t know why, but in recent months he and his colleagues have been seeing higher than usual numbers of patients with shingles which he says can be very painful and debilitating for those who get them.
“It’s important that doctors have the opportunity to give a person with shingles the prescribed treatment within 72 hours of the rash appearing,” Dr van Niekerk says. “If we don’t do this within that timeframe, unfortunately, there is little that can be done to treat the condition.
“A vaccine is available for those over 60 but at $190 it is expensive. If people feel they can afford this it is an option worth considering.”
Shingles is a viral infection, the first symptom of which is usually a tingling, sharp, burning pain under the skin, followed after 1-3 days by a red rash and blisters.
Shingles is caused by the same virus as chickenpox (varicella zoster). After a bout of chickenpox the virus lies latent in the nerve cells near the spinal cord. It remains there for life and can be reactivated at a later stage as shingles. Anyone who has had chickenpox can go on to develop shingles.
While there is no identifiable cause for shingles occurring, it is thought the following factors do influence the development of shingles:
  • emotional stress
  • lowered immunity due to immuno-suppressant medications or chemotherapy
  • a recent illness or major surgery
  • age.
Groups at an increased risk of developing shingles include people whose immune systems have been impaired due to ill health, medications or diseases that lower the immunity.
The initial tingling, sharp, burning pain under the skin can occur anywhere on the body but usually affects the face, upper abdomen or back and almost always occurs on one side of the body only. The pain can be mild or it can be quite severe. In general, the older the person is, the more severe the pain is likely to be. It can be accompanied by other symptoms including:
  • a feeling of being generally unwell
  • mild chills and fever
  • headache
  • an upset stomach
  • enlarged lymph nodes.
Full recovery from the condition usually occurs within two to three weeks, or up to four weeks in older adults.