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People Over 50 at Increased Risk of Shingles Virus

A few years ago, a Harris Interactive-sponsored poll found that Americans consider 50 to be the "perfect age" to live forever in good health. For many, the half­-century mark can be a time when experience and opportunity balance perfectly - as told by the saying "50 is the new 30." At 50, there may be more time to spend on your hobbies or other activities that interest you.

At 50, the last thing anyone would want is to be blindsided by illness. Yet risks of certain medical conditions increase with age. For example, shingles is a condition caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox - a virus that 98% of adults have had according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Even after recovery from chickenpox, the virus never leaves the body. At some point later in life, it can unexpectedly reactivate and emerge as shingles - a painful blistering rash that can last for 30 days.

When Edwin DePeiza discovered he had shingles, he learned the meaning of the adage: "You don't miss something until it's gone." DePeiza, who is in his 60s and resides in Massachusetts, first noticed a burning sensation on his torso. By the time he saw his doctor, a rash had developed. Upon seeing the rash, his doctor quickly diagnosed it as shingles.

DePeiza, a passionate guitar player, witnessed how shingles can interrupt the moments that matter in life. His guitar playing had taken him all over the world, but the intense pain of shingles forced him to put his passion on hold.

"The things I love to do most I couldn't do, like playing in the band and spending time with (my wife) Marylou," DePeiza recalls. "The sensation of having shingles for me was like being scalded by hot water, (or)having hot cereal spill on you. I have never experienced that kind of pain or burning sensation."

According to the CDC, one in three people will get shingles in their lifetime, and every year, about 1 million cases are diagnosed in the United States. Adults aged 50 and older are especially at risk for shingles, as the risk increases with age due to naturally declining immune systems. There is no way to tell who will get shingles, nor how severe the case will be.

Shingles most commonly surfaces on a single side of the torso, but it can appear anywhere on the body - even the face. For most people, after the shingles rash and blisters heal, the pain and itch subside - though some people may experience permanent scarring even after the rash heals. In some cases, shingles can cause complications like postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), a long-­term nerve pain that can last for months or even years after the blisters heal and the rash disappears.

Speaking with a healthcare professional to understand one's personal risk for shingles is important. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about a vaccine that can help prevent shingles.

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