California Sen. Dianne Feinstein remains hospitalized in San Francisco as she's being treated for shingles.
The painful rash can cause complications, and can be especially dangerous for older people or those with weakened immunity. But there's also growing evidence that shingles is on the rise in younger adults, too.
In May of 2021, Laarni San Juan, a registered nurse in her early 50s, was looking forward to a much needed family vacation.
"I was actually working on the COVID team. So it was pretty hectic for me," San Juan said.
When she boarded the plane to Hawaii, she saw something on her face.
"I noticed that there was what looked like a pimple on my forehead," she said.
When she landed, the painful sores multiplied.
"It started off like a little itchy and then it was more like this like throbbing pain that was constant. I went straight from the plane into the hospital, and I was hospitalized for eight days," she said.
San Juan was diagnosed with shingles. Doctors say anyone who's been exposed to chickenpox may develop this infection.
"It's a virus that is dormant in the nerves, and as we get older, we're predisposed to having this shingles virus re-emerge,' said Dr. James Michail, a geriatrician with Providence Holy Cross Medical Center.
He said the painful viral infection that lasts about a week doesn't usually cause hospitalizations like it did in the cases of San Juan and Sen. Feinstein. For shingles patients, antiviral therapy can help shorten the duration, but treatment is especially important if the rash shows up on the face.
"That is more of an emergency that needs to go to the hospital because that can go into the brain through the optic nerve," said Michail.
Most people who get shingles are over the age of 50, but shingles has been gradually increasing among younger adults over the past few decades. Why this is happening is not unknown, but doctors agree stress can be a factor.
"It is an opportunistic infection that comes up once we're under stress, or when the immune system is focusing on something else," said Michail.
Sometimes nerve pain could last long after the infection disappears.
Doctors recommend everyone 50 and older to get the two-shot series of the shingles vaccine because it can protect against severe infection. San Juan wishes she took the time to get vaccinated.
"I absolutely encourage anyone over 50 to talk to their doctor or pharmacists about the risk of shingles," she said.