If you had chicken pox as a child, you should be wary about getting shingles later in life. Caused by a reinfection with the varicella zoster virus, shingles produces itchy, tingling and more often painful blisters that occur along a nerve dermatome, usually on one side of the face or body. Because there is no medication that has been discovered that could kill the virus, it lies latent within the nerve cell bodies until it is reactivated by certain factors, including infection and a weak immune system. Serious complications of shingles include pneumonia, encephalitis and blindness. One particularly distressing complication of shingles is postherpetic neuralgia, which is characterized by severe pain. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for postherpetic neuralgia, thus making shingles prevention of primary importance. Shingles prevention falls under two categories: general preventive measures and shingles recurrence prevention.
General Preventive Measures
The most important preventive measure against shingles is getting a vaccination. If you are 60 years or older, the shingles vaccine is recommended for you. If you have not had chicken pox during your childhood, it is strongly advised that you get vaccinated for this disease. Remember that if you are exposed and become infected with the virus for the first time, you will contract chicken pox, not shingles. Shingles develops as a result of reinfection with the virus. Moreover, you are very vulnerable to contracting shingles if you are pregnant, an immunocompromised patient (HIV, diabetes), have been currently ill or are taking immunosuppressive drugs. You are also at high risk if you have cancer, lymphoma or leukemia.
Avoid contact with patients who have chicken pox or shingles, especially if the rashes are in the blister phase. The fluid in these blisters is highly contagious. If you are the patient, cover the blisters with a dressing that not only protects the sores, but also absorbs the fluid to prevent virus spread. Your clothing, towels and other personal items should be thoroughly cleaned after use. You should always wash your hands, because touching or scratching blisters sometimes cannot be avoided. If you are caring for a shingles patient, you should also practice hand washing after changing the patient’s dressings.
Shingles Recurrence Prevention
Take multivitamins and minerals to help boost your immune system. If you have postherpetic neuralgia, the recommended vitamins are high doses of vitamin C (1,000 to 3,000 mg daily) and vitamin B complex. It is also advisable to take 1,000 mg of lysine per day. Lysine works by inhibiting the amino acid arginine, which is needed to activate the virus.
In case you have found minimal or absolutely no relief from shingles pain with conventional medications, try natural remedies. The proteolytic enzymes present in papaya (papain) and pineapple (bromelain) have been found to be helpful in relieving pain and in reducing skin outbreaks, so consuming these fruits is highly recommended. Capsaicin cream, derived from peppers, produces an analgesic effect by depleting the neurotransmitter substance P, which transmits pain signals to the brain. Cayenne peppers, when added to food, will not only relieve existing pain, but may also prevent recurrences of postherpetic neuralgia pain.