Shingles is a painful illness brought on by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. In addition burning, distinct skin blisters, it may be accompanied by flu like symptoms like headache, fever and pain.
Anyone that has had chickenpox can develop shingles. The virus lays dormant for years within the nervous system following childhood chickenpox. Shingles is most common within the older population striking most often after age 50 and even more commonly after age 60. Some medical experts estimate that people 50% of the population over the age of 85 will get shingles. However, anyone whose immune system is compromised due to age, illness, cancer therapy or medications that suppress the immune system, such as prednisone, is vulnerable.
Dormancy, the latent stage, is what the individual’s immune system relies on to keep the virus from becoming shingles. However, if the virus becomes activated, it travels along the nerves, surfacing on the skin as painful blisters. Encouraging to note, is that proper immune response prevents activation of the virus. T cell-mediated-immunity (TCMI) is believed to be the most important factor in preventing shingles. TCMI is the immune system’s method of retaining memory of the initial virus during chickenpox and keeping it in a dormant state. With the addition of new T-cell production, the immune systems’ memory cells, it has the ability to stop the reactivation of the virus.
The human immune system naturally produces antibodies when it defends against a virus but it also responds at the cellular level by sending lymphocytes or T-cells that defend against the virus if it activates. Science believes that the cellular or T-cell response is most important in preventing reactivation of the virus and consequent shingles. Older people, the most likely to get shingles, usually have adequate levels of antibody to the virus from having had chickenpox, but have a diminished levels of T-cell response due to age related shrinkage of the thymus gland as well as other factors.
Unfortunately, once the immune system weakens, TCMI loses control and the virus activates resulting in blistering, painful lesions. Early symptoms that precede the blisters include a prodromal period of pain without lesions, numbness and tingling and even itching. If treated in the earliest stages, prior to lesions erupting or within 48 hours of a shingles outbreak, the disease can be somewhat minimized. There is no cure but early treatment with antiviral prescription drugs can accelerate healing and does reduce the risk of complications.
People that contract shingles also risk facial nerve weakness, meningitis and loss of eyesight. Postherpetic neuralgia pain that results from a bout of shingles can last months, even years. The shingles vaccine can reduce the chance of developing shingles by 50%. One in four people who have had chicken pox will develop shingles, so getting the shingles vaccine is important to people over the age of 50. People can have shingles breakouts more than once, so even if you have had the virus, be sure and get the vaccination.
In summary, here is what people can do to avoid the chances of activating the virus and minimizing the severity of a shingles outbreak:
- Minimize Your Risk – Get vaccinated, it cuts the risk of shingles by 50%. People can have shingles breakouts more than once, so even if you have had the virus, be sure and get the vaccination.
- Take Preventive Steps – Boost your immune system with thymic extract to help prevent activating the virus. According to WebMD, Thymus extract works by improving or boosting the immune system for infections, viruses, including shingles and autoimmune disease.
- Treat Immediately – If you do get shingles, get treatment with an anti-viral prescription such as acyclovir, famciclovir, or valacyclovir, within the first 48 hours of a breakout or when the first symptoms occur prior to breakout.