What is Shingles?
To understand shingles, one has to first understand chickenpox. The two diseases are closely related.
About Chicken Pox
Once responsible for generations of childhood infections, chickenpox is caused by an infection from the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). The disease is recognizable by small, itchy red spots that appear on the arms, legs, chest, back, and stomach. However, before the spots appear, children with chickenpox may experience head and body aches, fatigue, fever, as well as a loss of appetite. The spots turn to blisters and will generally crust over after a couple of days and disappear. The entire ordeal lasts about seven to ten days in children, longer for adults who contract the disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of 4 million people came down with chickenpox in the early 1990s, with preschool children contracting it at the highest rate. Fortunately, a vaccine introduced in 1995 in the United States has largely halted the spread of this highly contagious disease.
Like chickenpox, shingles is also caused by VZV. This is no coincidence. Once a person has been infected with VZV and comes down with chickenpox, the virus does not go away. Instead, it goes into a dormant state in the body only to be reactivated later in life. The reactivated virus shows up in the form of shingles and sometimes related complications.
Reactivation tends to be triggered in persons who have suppressed immune systems, such as those dealing with HIV/AIDS, cancer treatments, or people taking certain medications. However, as we age, even healthy individuals begin to lose some of their natural immunity. As a result, about 30 percent of people who have had chickenpox earlier in life tend to get shingles, most commonly after the age of 50. However, it can happen at any time in life.
Shingles in Adults
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is recognizable by a painful rash with oozing blisters which typically show up in a wide band on the left or right side of the torso or the face. Like its younger cousin, chickenpox, the rash is preceded by other symptoms. The worst of these is a feeling of pain or burning or tingling under the skin. Other symptoms include fever, headache, and fatigue, as well as a sensitivity to light.
Shingles in Children
The chickenpox vaccine is given in two doses, typically at 12 to 15 months of age and again between the ages of four and six. Children with healthy immune systems are not likely to get shingles, especially if they have received the chickenpox vaccine. However, as much as it has helped halt the spread of the disease, the vaccine is still only about 90 percent effective, meaning some children will contract it. In most cases, they will have a milder bout with chickenpox as well as a milder bout with shingles if the virus later reactivates.
However, children may contract chickenpox before the age of one before they’ve had the vaccine or may be susceptible to shingles if their mother contracted shingles late in her pregnancy while they were in utero. Although it is rare, some children cannot receive the chickenpox vaccine due to a suppressed immune system or because they had a severe allergic reaction to the first dose. As a result, those children can also be susceptible to chickenpox and shingles.
Symptoms of Shingles in Children
Shingles in children appear much like they do in adults with symptoms of pain, burning, tingling, and itching on one side of the body or on the face followed by a rash, often on the torso, limbs, or buttocks. Children may also experience fever, head and body aches, and nausea. Like chickenpox, small, itchy red spots begin to appear and turn into oozing blisters. They will scab over and disappear over two to four weeks.
How Can Shingles in Children be Treated?
Shingles is downright unpleasant and painful at any age, and your doctor may be able to prescribe an anti-viral medication early on to mitigate the symptoms. Over-the-counter medications can also be helpful, but be sure not to give a child with shingles aspirin as that can lead to Reye syndrome, a severe brain disease.
Ointments and creams can also soothe irritated skin. It’s not always easy to know what cream is good for shingles especially when the patient is a child, but many adults who have experienced this painful rash and their doctors who treat them swear by ointments for providing relief on contact. These ointments are a specially designed formula of all-natural, concentrated medical-grade ingredients that penetrate the skin bringing a wide range of healing, soothing properties that spell relief.
Can My Child Get the Adult Shingles Vaccine?
Like the chickenpox vaccine, the shingles vaccine is also given in two doses, but these are typically spaced just a few months apart. The vaccine not only protects against shingles but also a common severe complication called postherpetic neuralgia. Children cannot get the shingles vaccine. However, if your child has not yet been inoculated for chickenpox, check with your child’s health care provider about getting the vaccine. Then, even if your child is one of the unlucky ones who still contract the virus, the experience will likely be mild.