Ask the Doc: Grown-Up Chicken Pox
Many Americans get the chicken pox as children, resulting in a week of staying home, watching cartoons, and trying not to scratch. Shingles, which is caused by the same virus as chicken pox, is a common but painful disease that is usually seen in adults over 50 or in people with compromised immune systems.
Often, before they notice a rash, people with shingles will notice pain that starts on the back and gradually spreads across the entire torso. Soon, they will see a red, blistery rash, usually on their side. We talked with Odette Evangelista, MD, board-certified internal medicine physician with Beebe Family Practice—Georgetown, to get the scoop on shingles and how to stay rash-free.
Q: I thought if you had chickenpox as a kid, you had the antibodies and couldn’t get it again—so why am I at risk for shingles? If you get shingles, does that mean you’re immune to getting it again?
As you age, the antibodies you had due to chicken pox wane, meaning you are more likely to get shingles. Even if you have already had shingles as an adult, you should still have the shingles vaccine to prevent a reoccurrence.
Q: What should I do if I think I have shingles?
You should see your doctor immediately if you think you have shingles. Antiviral medicine is recommended for patients with shingles who see a doctor within 72 hours of having symptoms. This medicine, usually in the form of a small pill, promotes the rapid healing of skin lesions, lessens the severity and duration of pain, and reduces the incidence or severity of chronic pain.
Q: Is there any way to prevent getting shingles or spreading it to others?
Those who already have shingles can avoid spreading it by keeping the rash covered, if feasible, until the rash has crusted, and by washing their hands often. To decrease your risk of ever getting shingles and lessen the likelihood of complications, you can get the shingles vaccine. Anyone over 60 should have the vaccine, regardless of whether they’ve had chickenpox or not.
Q: Does insurance pay for the vaccine?
Medicare Part D and most private health insurance companies cover the shingles vaccine for those who are 60 and older. Some plans cover the vaccine starting at age 50, but you will have to talk
to your insurer to confirm. Medicare Part B does not cover the vaccine, but you may be eligible for a free or reduced- cost vaccine. Talk to your pharmacist or healthcare provider to find out more.