Shingles is a condition many assisted living providers are coping with as part of resident care. It is a painful, blistering skin rash due to the varicella-zoster virus – the same virus that causes chickenpox. It is most common among 60- to 80-year-olds. Fifty percent of all Americans will have had shingles by the time they are 80. Early signs of shingles include burning or shooting pain and tingling or itching, usually on one side of the body or face near the area where the rash is developing. This may happen anywhere from 1 to 5 days before the rash appears. The rash forms blisters that typically scab over in 7–10 days. The virus is spread through direct contact with the blister fluid itself.
One of our major concerns is keeping our residents and staff safe. Persons with shingles should be instructed to keep the rash covered, do not touch or scratch the rash, wash hands often and avoid contact with persons susceptible to the virus. For that reason, other residents are typically not a high risk concern, but we do need to protect our staff that care for residents with shingles, particularly those that have not had chicken pox and are or may be pregnant. Immediately remove all staff who are pregnant from providing personal care or other services to which they may become exposed. Do not assume because a resident has had a shingles vaccine that they will not develop shingles. Some will still get shingles, but typically a milder outbreak.
Several antiviral medicines—acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir—are available to help shorten the length and severity of shingles. They must be started as soon as possible after the rash appears. Analgesics (pain medicine) may help relieve the pain caused by shingles. The use of wet compresses, calamine lotion and colloidal oatmeal baths may help relieve some of the itching.
More information about Shingles (Herpes Zoster) can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.