Asked by Jenny, Scarsdale, New York
If someone develops shingles after she gave birth will this virus affect her next pregnancy? Is there any chance or possibility that the shingles will return again for the rest of her life? And if it can, will the shingles break out in the same spot, or can it be in a different area of the body? What can you do to prevent recurrence? Thanks.
Living Well Expert
Dr. Jennifer Shu
Children's Medical Group
Shingles (also called herpes zoster) occurs when a person's past chickenpox infection is reactivated. The chickenpox virus (called varicella zoster virus) remains inactive within the nervous system but may show up as shingles in about 20 percent of people.
Symptoms of shingles include groups of vesicles, or tiny blisters, on the skin along the nerves of the body. The lesions may be painful and feel as if they are stinging or burning. As with chickenpox, the blisters turn into crusty scabs before healing after about a week or two. Shingles is typically found on just one part of a person's skin, although people may also have systemic signs of infection such as fever, chills and a headache. Some people continue to experience pain from shingles for months after the occurrence; this is called postherpetic neuralgia, which is more common in older people, and it can be very difficult to treat. Patients with shingles may be prescribed an antiviral medication and possibly steroids to help shorten the duration of the illness and lessen the severity of the symptoms.
Shingles is most common in people over age 50 and those who have a weakened immune system, but anyone at any age who has ever had chickenpox (even if it was such a mild infection that they don't know that they had it) can get shingles. People typically only have shingles once, if at all, but it is possible to get it again. Recurrent episodes may occur in the same place or on other parts of the body.
Dr. Eli Perencevich, an infectious disease specialist and associate professor of epidemiology and preventive medicine at the University of Maryland Medical Center, advises patients with shingles to cover the wound with gauze and/or clothing to prevent its spread; contact with someone with shingles does not cause shingles in other people but can cause chickenpox in those who have never had it. It may be reassuring to know, however, that shingles shortly after pregnancy should not cause problems for infants because specific maternal antibodies protect them until about 9 to 12 months of age.
There is now a herpes zoster vaccine that is recommended for most individuals over the age of 60. There is also a chickenpox vaccine, given to children, which is at least 70 percent effective in preventing chickenpox infection. It is still too early to know if that vaccine will also prevent shingles in later adulthood.
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