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What You Need to Know About Shingles

There is a growing number of cases of shingles in Canada. Approximately 130,000 Canadians are diagnosed with shingles each year, and that number is rising.

What is Shingles?

Shingles is an infection that shows up as a painful skin rash with blisters, usually on one side of the body (left or right). This is most often the waist, chest, abdomen, or back. Symptoms can also appear on the face and in the eyes, mouth, and ears.


Anyone who has had chickenpox can later develop shingles. Shingles is caused when the virus that causes chickenpox is reactivated in the body. The virus doesn’t leave the body, even after a person has recovered from chickenpox. It can flare up again, causing shingles, often many years after a person has had chickenpox. The virus tends to reactivate when a person’s immune system is weakened because of another health problem.


People with shingles often experience a variety of symptoms. Here is a list of the most common.

  • a constant dull, burning, or gnawing pain, or sharp, stabbing pain that comes and goes

  • a skin rash that resembles chickenpox, but only affects certain areas

  • fluid-filled blisters that develop as part of the rash

  • For shingles that infect the eye, this can cause pain, redness, and swelling in and around the eye, as well as temporary or permanent loss of vision. 


What are the risks?

According to the Government of Canada website on Infectious Diseases:

  • Some people experience pain around the rash site for a month or more–pain that is severe enough to interfere with daily activities.

  • Scratching the rash can also cause a secondary infection if harmful bacteria get into the sores.

  • Shingles on the face can involve the eyes, which is serious because it can cause scarring and blindness.

  • The occurrence and severity of shingles and its complications increase with age.

Who is at risk?

Any person who has had chickenpox can get shingles, however, most people who do so are over the age of 50 or have a weakened immune system.


The best protection from shingles is vaccination. The Canadian government recommends, the vaccine for most people 60 and older. Always consult your doctor or other health care professionals if you should be vaccinated, depending on your personal medical history.


If you suspect you have shingles or are concerned with changes to your health, consult your doctor right away. They will be able to diagnose and provide treatment, such as an antiviral medication.

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