I wrote about Shingles back in 2016 but it's back in the news since Senator Diane Feinstein has been hospitalized in San Francisco with Shingles. Shingles is a virus called Varicella Zoster, the same virus that causes Chickenpox. After a person catches chickenpox, the virus lays dormant in nerve roots and can reactivate any time the immune system is under stress. It causes a painful blister-like rash in the area of the nerve (a dermatome). This is often on the face, neck or shoulder, but really can activate anywhere. The blisters usually scab over after 7-14 days but the pain and burning can last for months.
The rash of shingles usually does not cross the midline of the body and stays localized in that nerve area. Immune suppressed people can have disseminated shingles, which is a serious and life-threatening condition where the rash and virus spreads over the body like a chickenpox rash.
It can be spread to people who have never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine. Those people would get chickenpox, not shingles. You cannot catch shingles from someone who has shingles.
Why is Senator Feinstein in the hospital? Most cases of shingles do not require hospitalization. It is speculation, but she is 89 years old, the oldest sitting member of the Senate. Older people have less robust immune systems and the risk of complications increases the older one is. Serious complications include eye involvement and blindness (if the nerve involved is on the face), pneumonia, brain inflammation, sepsis or intractable pain. There have been no reports or details from her office to explain why she is hospitalized.
There are a number of effective antiviral medications that treat shingles, (Acyclovir, Valacyclovir and Famciclovir) that shorten the course and severity of the shingles outbreak.
The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 50 get two shingles vaccines called Shingrex, 2-6 months apart. It is more than 90% effective in preventing shingles and post-herpetic neuralgia (skin pain) after an infection. Shingrex does not contain any live varicella virus.
We wish Senator Feinstein a speedy and safe recovery.
For more information on how to support your immune system, go to https://www.tonibrayermd.com/immune