DT Health: Shingles can be prevented with prompt attention, say experts
CHENNAI: Many of us know of someone who has suffered from shingles, a condition that causes unbearable nerve pain which can last for several months or years. Most of us don’t know what causes this painful condition and how it can be prevented. On the occasion of Shingles Awareness Week, experts talk about the sa me.
Shingles is a viral infection caused by the ‘varicella zoster’ virus. It is the same virus that causes chickenpox. After the chickenpox rash has cleared up, this virus goes to sleep in the nerve cells of the body. It remains asleep while the immune system is healthy and strong; should the immune system get weakened by stress, old age or any other causes, this virus ‘wakes up’ and causes shingles. This condition shows up as a rash, usually seen on one side of the body, on the back and the chest, and is accompanied by severe, unbearable nerve pain.
Dr Subramanian Swaminathan, Director Infectious Diseases and Infection Control, Gleneagles Global Hospitals says that Shingles is a common infection. Global data shows that 1 in every 3 persons more than 50 years of age gets this infection once in a lifetime and this risk increases further as they grow older.
“This is because as age advances, the immune cells do not function as well as they do at a younger age. This leads to weakened immunity and reactivation of the virus. In addition to age, medical conditions and drugs that weaken immunity also put an individual at an increased risk of shingles. These conditions include diabetes, kidney failure, cancer, and treatment for certain diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis,” he says.
“Nerve pain which lasts for more than 3 months after the rash onset is known as post-herpetic neuralgia and is the most common complication of shingles. The infection can also spread to nerves in other parts of the body such as the eye and in rare cases can lead to blindness. It can also infect other organs such as the liver, spleen, brain and spinal cord, which can be life-threatening. This happens only in those patients whose immunity is very weak,” said Dr Subramanian Swaminathan.
People who have had chickenpox are at no risk even if they are in direct contact with a shingles patient. There are several anti-viral medicines used to manage shingles. But they must be started early to be effective. Shingles can be prevented with vaccination.
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