If you watched NewsChannel 11 at Ten Monday night, you might have noticed something a little different about Pete Christy. He wasn't really excited about having a camera give him a close up because that's when you could see the bumps on his face. Actually, they were clusters of blisters over a little red patch. That's the classic look of shingles.
At the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center in the Department of Family Medicine, Dr. Laura Baker says shingles is pretty uncommon for people under the age of 50. It is, instead, more common for people over the age of 60 since the incidence increases with age. That's not much comfort to Pete, the youngest on our team.
He says the first blisters showed up a couple of days ago with a clump under one eye and a spot on his lip and a few more near his ear. Shingles is a painful condition that comes from the same virus that triggers the chicken pox.
In fact, Dr. Baker says the symptoms of chicken pox go away but the virus stays with you forever. She says usually when it shows up again, it appears after a bug or some illness, when your immune system is down.
Coincidentally, Pete says he had a bad stomach bug last week. Usually shingles shows up as a rash on the stomach but it can turn up anywhere. In Pete's case, it's not his stomach, but his face and neck that are affected.
Dr. Baker says it's important to see a doctor at the first sign of shingles because antibiotics can shorten your misery if you get treatment within 72 hours of the onset of lesions.
So how do you know if a rash is shingles or just an allergy? Well, there's one obvious clue that it's shingles: this rash occurs only on one side. In Pete's case, it's his right side with lesions below his right eye, on the right side of his nose, on the right side of his lip, around his right ear and down the right side of his neck.
So now the big question we all asked, is Pete contagious?
Dr. Baker answers that question like this. "Remember, if you've had chicken pox, you've already been exposed to the virus. You already have the virus still in you. So, the fact that somebody walks by with shingles doesn't make you more susceptible."
Dr. Baker adds the concern is for babies and infants who have not yet been immunized against the chicken pox. That includes kids like Bella and Henley Christy, who are off limits to their dad right now.
Pete is the first one to admit that he doesn't need to be near his kids until his shingles goes into hiding, hopefully forever.
The good news is that there is a shingles vaccine. It is recommended for people over the age of 60. But Pete says he'll be in line for that after he recovers, because unlike chicken pox you can get shingles more than once.