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The Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program of BC

Your Responsibilities
Preventing Infection

Shingles

What are shingles?

Shingles (also known as “zoster” or “herpes zoster”) can occur when the virus that causes chicken pox (called Varicella zoster) becomes active again. The virus remains dormant, never leaving the body and can be reactivated in patients whose immune systems are weakened.  These viruses are highly contagious and can be passed on to others. Contact with anyone who has been exposed or has an active infection should be avoided.

Will I get shingles?

Up to 50% of BMT patients and some chemotherapy patients will get shingles during the first year after treatment. For these reasons you may be given preventative medications while your immune system is suppressed.

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What are the symptoms of shingles?

Shingles can appear anywhere on the body. The most common symptom is a burning pain and/or itching, which may occur several days before a skin rash/lesions appear. The symptoms often occur in a strip or band as the infection usually follows the path of a nerve. When the lesions appear they are usually in groups of raised, red blisters that may look like clear pimples. They are usually quite sore and itchy. These blisters may ooze fluid, break and then, in time, dry up. The fluid in the blisters contains the virus and is contagious to others. When the blisters are dried and form a scab, they are no longer contagious.

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What should I do if I think I have shingles?

There are a number of drugs that are useful in the treatment of shingles. It is very important to get prompt treatment to reduce the chance of complications.  It is up to you to be alert to the signs and let the healthcare team know right away if you think you might have shingles.

Here is what you should do:

  • Let your doctor or nurse know right away – do not delay.
  • If you are being treated in the Outpatient Clinic, let the clinic know by calling ahead. We need to take measures to prepare for your visit to avoid the chance of infecting other patients. Do not use the waiting room until you have been examined. You will need to be isolated from other patients, until you are no longer infectious.
  • Try not to touch the spots or scratch them.
  • Do not apply topical remedies (calamine, baking soda, etc.) until the doctor has assessed you. Some of these may make the infection worse and none of them will make it better.
  • Wash your hands often to decrease the risk of spreading the infection.
  • Stay away from women who might be pregnant, as there is a risk to the fetus if the mother gets infected.
  • Wear loose clothing over the affected area (cotton is best). If the infection is in your groin area, wear cotton underwear or boxer shorts. Do not wear nylons/synthetics.
  • Wash your clothes, linens, and towels often using bleach if possible. Keep your laundry separate from others at home.
  • Do not share towels, facecloths or napkins with other people.

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