Shingles common; shot recommended even for those who’ve already had it

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INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- Shingles strikes one of out of three people and not always in old age. Fox 4 Medical Reporter Meryl Lin McKean is one of those people now. She's had the pain and itching for more than a week. Meryl Lin found another woman who's dealt with it since April.

Carole Culbertson went to the emergency room with shooting pain in her back and arm and was told it was a pinched nerve. A few days later a rash appeared.

"I had actually used Biofreeze and a heating pad so I thought that was what the rash was," said Culbertson.

It turns out it was shingles. You can still see a little of the rash on her arm four months later. Meryl Lin compared rashes with Carole. Meryl Lin's is mostly on her back.

Anyone who's had chicken pox can get shingles.

"That virus goes and lives in a nerve and for some reason, it just lies dormant in that nerve for 10, 15, 20, 30, 40, 50 years," said Dr. Todd Fristo, a family physician with Saint Luke's Medical Group.

Instead of getting a full body rash, the shingles rash is just in the areas supplied by the nerve. It's typically one side of the body.

The sooner you start taking a prescription anti-viral medicine, the better.

"That can reduce the length of the infection and it can also prevent a complication called post shingles neuralgia where you may have persistent nerve pain," said Dr. Fristo.

Culbertson continues to have pain although the acute infection typically lasts no more than a few weeks.

There is a vaccine that cuts the chances of getting shingles by 50 percent. Dr. Fristo says the vaccine is approved for people 50 and older, but many insurers don't cover the expensive vaccine until age 60.

Dr. Fristo says even if you've already had shingles, you should still get the shot. Culbertson is going to get it after the virus calms down.

"Because I don't want to experience this again," she said.

Yes, you can get shingles again.

So is it contagious? If you haven't had chicken pox or don't have immunity provided by the chicken pox vaccine, you could get chicken pox from touching the shingles lesions.