03. November 2012
Happy to report my annual physical went pretty well recently. My blood pressure and heart rate are good, my cholesterol numbers are just fine and my blood work unremarkable. (The one time “unremarkable” is a good thing!)
But just when I thought it was safe to shed my paper gown, my doctor apparently, wasn’t quite finished with me. First he reminded me it was time to schedule a colonoscopy. (Oh joy!) Then, as I was about to head for the door, he handed me a sheet of paper from his prescription pad and informed me I needed to get a shingles vaccine.
What? I thought only old people had to be vaccinated against shingles! You know…people over 60! My doctor smiled as he pointed out that I’m only months from turning 59 and things have changed when it comes to shingles.
Turns out, the vaccine, Zostavax, has recently been approved for people from 50-59 who had chicken pox as children. I remember my childhood bout with chicken pox so I know I’m at risk for developing shingles as an adult. And from what I’ve heard, it’s no fun.
The first signs of shingles can indicate other health ailments but once the painful red blisters show up on the skin, there’s no mistaking the familiar rash. It starts with three days of pain, tingling, deep soreness and burning. Then the blisters appear.
If you’ve had chickenpox, the shingles virus is lurking in your body. Under certain conditions that stress the immune system, the virus is awakened in the form of shingles and the throbbing pain, tingling, itching and burning begin.
There’s no cure for shingles, but there are treatments. Antiviral drugs taken at the onset of symptoms can shorten the intensity and duration of the virus. The vaccine, Zostavax can reduce the risk of shingles by half.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a million cases of shingles occur each year in the United States – half of those among people 60 years or older. It’s known as herpes zoster, but is NOT herpes simplex (oral or genital.) It spreads along nerves appearing most often on the back or chest.
How long shingles last depends on the outbreak. The blisters dry up within a couple of weeks, but the pain, itching and tingling can last for months. It can also recur.
Bottom line – You don’t want shingles. Me either. So I’m going to take my doctor’s prescription to my local Rite Aid pharmacy and get the vaccination. Afterwards, I’m told I could have a mild headache or a little redness and itching at the site of the shot.
But that’s nothing compared with the pain of shingles I’ve heard described as “worse than passing a kidney stone.”
To learn more go to shinglesinfo.com.
Contact Carol by emailing her at Carol@palomarhealth.org.