Shingles in Adults: Symptoms, Signs, Treatment and How Contagious is it?

An estimated 1 million people fall subject to shingles every year in the U.S.A. It is torturous for anyone who has had the unpleasant misfortune of dealing with these circumstances. The deeper our understanding of something, the less scary it becomes. So let us squelch that fear for you with some facts and empower you with tools to fight the symptoms should this illness fall on you.

Can Adults Get Chickenpox?

Over 90% of reported chickenpox is in young children (under 2 years of age is the largest assembly), but young adults and mature adults can contract the virus too. It latches onto people with unguarded immune systems.

Children’s bodies haven’t developed yet and senior citizens’ systems are disarmed by aging.

Both chickenpox and shingles are rooted in the herpes zoster virus. Shingles are more common in adults as the majority of grownups in industrialized countries in modern times contracted this family of viruses in their childhood. Shingles is actually a reanimation of the same virus because HSV lives in the body forever once infected. Around 75% of the affected population won’t ever see their chickenpox evolve into shingles, but that still leaves 25% that will face the consequences at least once in their lifetime.

Certain factors cause people to be more liable to be bothered by a shingles outbreak. According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, the following segments are at the highest hazard:

  • Healthcare workers
  • House members of immunocompromised persons
  • Institutional workers (schools, corporations, nursing homes, etc.)
  • College Students
  • Correctional officers
  • Incarcerated inmates
  • Military personnel
  • Teachers
  • Daycare workers
  • Women of childbearing age (nonpregnant)
  • International travelers

Signs and Symptoms of Shingles in Adults

This viral infection gives victims early warnings that distress is coming. Signs and symptoms of shingles in adults follows a pattern resemblant to this:

  • Pain, sometimes paired with heat and swelling, springs up on one side of the body (described as a girdle or belt distribution). Usually on the torso, but can emerge on the shoulder, hip, neck, or other extremities.
  • Fatigue, body aches, and irritability
  • A red rash crops up in the painful area
  • Rash transforms into blisters filled with fluid
  • Blisters erupt and scab over
  • Sores clear up in a few weeks, but nerve pain could linger up to 12 months

How to Treat Shingles in Young Adults

Handling shingles in proper adulthood means addressing your basic health levels. In a standard, healthy adult the virus can exist harmoniously without causing issues. What triggers shingles is when the immune system becomes compromised by illness, stress, or injury. In the past 6 decades, shingles have been on the rise in younger adults in the United States. A study from 2016 saw numbers growing since 1940. Only 0.76 out of 1,000 people from 1945 to 1949 reported a diagnosis of shingles. The figure rose to 3.15 in 1,000 from 2000 to 2007. Stress and chronic illness (diabetes, heart disease) are blamed for this new epidemic.

How to treat shingles in adults is with the following approach:

  • See a doctor ASAP. One family practice physician in Texas describes that receiving treatment in the first 48 to 72 hours significantly reduces the severity and duration of shingles flare.
  • Prescription antiviral medications, like valacyclovir (Valtrex®), acyclovir (Zovirax®), or famciclovir (Famvir®), shorten the length of the rash and pain. They can also prevent future outbreaks if you suffer from autoimmune deficiencies.
  • Topical ointments. These run the gambit of anti-itch, steroidal, analgesic (pain-killing). and anti-inflammatory. Common over-the-counter options include calamine lotion, capsicum, and cortisone.
  • Rest and relaxation. The 24/7, go-go, constantly moving lifestyle could be a contributor to the rise in shingles in otherwise healthy adults. Removing stressors from life will offer space and time for your body to heal properly.

Shingles in Adults Over 60

Previously, we recalled a study of shingles outbreaks rising in recent decades in adults. For elder populations, the data shows a great increase in shingles cases of 39% from 1999 to 2010 in people over 65 years old. Senior citizens are at a greater threat of developing severe complications as a result of shingles.

Possible negative outcomes include bacterial skin infections, scarring, narcotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating bacteria), encephalitis (brain inflammation), transverse myelitis (inflamed spinal cord), peripheral motor neuropathy (nerve pain), and hearing and vision loss.

Is Shingles Contagious to Adults Who Have Not Had Chickenpox?

Since shingles is an uprising of a virus already present in the body, it is not contagious between people who have already had chickenpox. Working through the illness in childhood builds up antibodies to ward off the symptoms. But is shingles contagious to adults who have not had chickenpox?

The herpes zoster virus can be transmitted from a shingles outbreak, during the stages in which the rash is visible, to someone never infected before. The exposed recipient could then fall sick with chickenpox. The first introduction to the virus always results in chickenpox, rather than shingles. Adults who skipped chickenpox in their youth, but contract the virus in adulthood have a tougher time recovering than kids. Bouncing back could take a hospital stay versus just staying home from a school a few days.

 

 

Article References:

  1. https://www.health.com/shingles
  2. https://www.webmd.com/children/what-is-chickenpox
  3. http://www.nfid.org/publications/factsheets/varicellaadult.pdf
  4. http://www.adultvaccination.org/vpd/chickenpox/facts.html
  5. https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/shingles/news/20180904/shingles-on-the-rise-among-younger-people
  6. https://www.skinsight.com/skin-conditions/adult/zoster-shingles
  7. https://thepapergown.zocdoc.com/young-people-get-shingles-too/
  8. https://www.drugtopics.com/shingles-vaccine/shingles-complications-elderly
  9. https://www.cdc.gov/groupastrep/diseases-public/necrotizing-fasciitis.html
  10. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/encephalitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20356136
  11. http://healthland.time.com/2013/01/29/5-things-you-should-know-about-chickenpox-and-shingles/

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