The horrible itching of chickenpox is one of my first memories. I remember my mother trying to ease my pain with a cold, baking soda bath. Thank goodness, that’s over and I never have to endure chickenpox again!
But wait, our suffering may not be over. We are the ones who can get shingles!
According to educational material by MERCK, the virus that causes chickenpox never leaves your body. Instead it stays in your nervous system, and can re-emerge and cause the shingles rash. You probably know someone who has “cooked” up a good case of shingles during a time of stress (natch!) and has endured significant nerve pain. It’s no picnic.
Fortunately, a second generation shingles vaccine was approved by the FDA in 2017. Trials show that it is 90 percent effective in preventing shingles (herpes zoster).
This vaccine is also recommended for people who have already gotten the live shingles vaccine (Zostavax). There is no live virus in this new vaccine.
Why get vaccinated
The shingles rash can last up to 30 days. Red and blistering, the pain is often described as sharp, shooting and throbbing. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) literature notes that the rash usually appears on one side of the face or body and heals within 2 to 4 weeks. Besides pain, sometimes sever pain, symptoms include fever, headache, chills and upset stomach. The pain seems to wrap around the back and chest, over the shoulder and one-half of the head.
Even after the rash goes away, about 1 person in 5, continues to feel severe pain. This is called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN).
Who gets shingles
Although my now 40-year-old son contracted shingles in his twenties, shingles is much more common in people 50 years of age or older. Another whammy, risk increases with age. For example, my grandfather got shingles in his 70s and my mother endured her first of several outbreaks around the same time of life.
That said, shingles is also more common in people whose immune system is weakened due to disease such as cancer, or by drugs such as steroids or chemotherapy. At least I million people a year in the U.S. get shingles.
What to do
As my mother would say, “Hop on the bunny trail” to your healthcare provider to see if you are a good candidate for the new vaccine. Two doses, 2 to 6 months apart, are recommended for adults 50 and older.
You can also get more information from your local or state health department or contact the CDC: Call 1-800-232-4636 or visit the CDC’s website at www.cdc.gov/vaccines.
Some people should not get this vaccine
The CDC literature warns that some people should not get the vaccine and to be sure and tell your provider if you:
- Have any severe, life-threatening allergies
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding
- Are not feeling well
Risks of the vaccine reaction
I understand my body’s reaction to the two dose vaccine is pretty typical. Each time, I felt like I had a slight temperature, kind of achy and headachy. However, the next day those symptoms gradually decreased and I was able to do my regular activities. Interestingly, side effects are more common in younger people.
Of course, if people suffer any signs of severe allergic reaction to the vaccination, such as hives, high temperature, swelling of the face and throat or fast heartbeat, they should contact their provider or get to the nearest hospital.
For more information about vaccine safety please visit: www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/