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  Sanford Downtown Walk-in Clinic
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  Sanford Children's Walk-in Clinic
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  Sanford Health Walk-in Clinic
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  Sanford Health Walk-in Clinic
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Sanford North Mandan Clinic

How would I know if I have shingles?

Shingles is a viral infection most often characterized by a painful rash that can occur anywhere on the body. Generally, the rash is on the middle of the back and wraps around to one side of the chest and breastbone. Shingles usually affect only a section or one side of your body. In addition to the rash and accompanying pain, people with shingles may develop fluid-filled blisters that break open, numbness and tingling sensations in the affected area, itching, headaches, fever and fatigue. Shingles can be difficult to self-diagnose because some people have only pain without the accompanying rash and symptoms can mirror other conditions.

Who can get shingles?

If you have had chickenpox, you can get shingles. The virus that caused your chickenpox can lie dormant in your nerve roots for years. For unknown reasons, the virus can reactivate in some people as shingles.  You cannot get chickenpox again. Shingles is most common in older adults and people with weak immune systems. At least one million Americans get shingles every year.

Is shingles contagious?

You cannot get shingles or pass shingles from someone with shingles.  However, if you have never had chickenpox you may get chickenpox from a person with active shingles. Usually, this occurs through direct contact with the open sores.

Do vaccinations prevent shingles?

If you have never had chickenpox and have never been vaccinated for chickenpox, ask your primary care doctor about having the chickenpox (varicella-zoster) vaccine. This vaccine is recommended as part of childhood vaccinations and is given to children in two phases at 12 to 15 months and 4 to 6 years old. A one-time shingles vaccination is recommended for adults 60 and older. It reduces your risk of shingles by 50 percent and can reduce pain if you still get shingles. Your doctor can advise you on whether or not you are a good candidate for these vaccinations.

Should I see a doctor if I think I have shingles?

Call your primary care doctor and describe your symptoms if you think you may have shingles. If you have pain and rash near your eyes, seek medical assistance immediately because a shingles-type infection can cause permanent eye damage. Your doctor can prescribe medications and recommend at-home care to improve healing and decrease pain. Also, your doctor will observe you for possible complications of shingles, which include postherpetic neuralgia (a pain that can last for months or even years after the shingles are gone), rash spread that can negatively affect internal organs, and problems related to facial nerves, hearing loss and bacterial infections. While most people recuperate with no long-term effects and never get shingles again, your primary care doctor is an important ally if you get shingles.

Dr. Gretchen Belzer-Curl is a board-certified family medicine physician at Sanford North Mandan Clinic. A graduate of the UND School of Medicine, Dr. Belzer-Curl specializes in women’s medicine, preventative health, abnormal Paps and colposcopies. She enjoys music, skiing, running and time with her husband and four children.

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