(NC) If you’re over age 50, you’re at an increased risk for shingles. The condition affects approximately 130,000 Canadians each year, including about 16,000 British Columbians.

Shingles usually develops as a very painful blistering rash that can appear across the face, chest, or abdomen and lasts for several weeks. The pain can be severe and debilitating, interfering with doing normal day-to-day activities. Shingles can also result in ongoing nerve pain that occurs in up to 30 per cent of all shingles cases and can last for months or even years.

There are certain measures that can be taken to help lower your chances of developing shingles. Here are three steps adults over 50 years of age — the demographic most vulnerable— can take to help prevent shingles:

1. Learn about the potential risks. Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. More than 90 per cent of adults over 50 years of age carry the virus, which lies dormant in the nervous system and reactivates with increasing age or when the immune system is weakened. In fact, approximately one in three people develop shingles in their lifetime, and those odds increase to one in two for those who reach the age of 85 or older. Older adults should talk to their doctor to learn about the risks associated with shingles.

2. Ask your doctor about vaccination. In British Columbia, where the number of seniors is quickly climbing to one million, more and more people are potentially at risk of developing shingles. Some provincial governments are recognizing how important it is for older adults to be vaccinated to help protect against the virus. Ontario, for example, already has a free shingles vaccination program for some seniors. Talk to your doctor about shingles prevention and the benefits and risks of vaccination.

3. Spread the word. The risk and severity of shingles increases in older adults because aging causes a natural decline in the body’s immunity. That’s why those who are aware of the possible risks should encourage friends and family aged 50 and older to talk to their doctor about vaccination against shingles and the benefits and risks. Doing so can help protect them from the painful and potentially debilitating virus.