Now you can protect yourself from shingles

Good morning. I have a suggestion for you while you are in this lull between the two major holidays.

I can remember many years ago hearing that an aunt had gotten shingles. I giggled the first time I heard it. I only knew of shingles as something that was put on a roof. I stopped giggling when I heard how much pain the shingles were causing her for the length of time she had them. I never saw them, but from what I understand she had a rather severe case.

As I’ve grown older, I, of course, have learned more about it. I have never known anyone else personally who has been afflicted with shingles until a childhood  friend who has struggled with colon cancer told me she had gotten a case. The way she described it, I finally was convinced enough to move my bottom into action. She has been on chemotherapy for fifteen months which of course has weakened her immune system. As far as I know, my immune system is intact, but I didn’t want to take any chances.

If you’ve ever had chicken pox, you are at risk of developing shingles some time in your life. I can still remember being sick with that. That’s one of my first memories of being ill with something other than asthma. Somebody tied mittens on my hands to keep me from scratching I had them so bad.

From what I understand, shingles doesn’t make you itch so much as cause you to be in intense pain. The medical name for this illness is Herpes Zoster. If you’ve ever had the pain of a fever blister on your lip, multiply the intensity of that pain to sometimes a rather large area of your body. Once you’ve had chicken pox, the virus never leaves your body. As you age, your immune system tends to weaken. Then it can strike again.

Usually it only affects one side of your body. It can last two to four weeks. That was something else I didn’t know. I thought maybe you would be uncomfortable for two or three days and the discomfort would subside.

My doctor had recommended me getting the shingles vaccine, Zostavax,  probably eighteen months ago or more. I just heard him but was really in no hurry to do anything about it. Then my friend told me about her shingles. A few months after that, I saw a morning show host on a channel and a program I don’t think I’ve ever watched. I was just surfing and landed on that particular show. She was talking about just coming back from a case of the shingles. Hers had affected the whole side of her face and eye. Her eye was still slightly swollen. It had been swollen shut. It wasn’t entirely hidden by a make up job. She also talked about the severe pain. I decided it was time to act. She happened to still be in her 40s because she and another medical guest were discussing her relatively young age to get shingles.

I was planning on getting all my vaccines at once but my doctor recommended I spread them out. I got the H1Ni one week and the shingles vaccine the next.

While I was waiting for the nurse, I was handed a flyer on the shingles vaccine entitled “what you need to know”. I had not idea that the herpes virus  could also cause fever, headache, chills and upset stomach. What really caught my attention was that a shingles infection can lead to pneumonia, breathing problems, blindness, brain inflammation (encephalits) or even death. About 20% of patients with shingles can continue having severe pain long after the rash clears up. If you know anyone with neuralgia, this it it. It’s called post-herpetic neuralgia.  If you are over 60, your chances of developing the neuralgia rise to 40%. At least one million people a year in the US get shingles. That was enough information to convince me I was doing the right thing.

I was given the vaccine in the back of my arm. It’s a subcutaneour injection. I felt very little discomfort during the injection. My arm started hurting a couple of days later. By standing to the side, I could see the injection site in the mirror. The area was slightly swollen to maybe the area of a playing card. In the center of that was a very red rash about 1/2 in. wide and 1 1/2 inches long. It hurt but was not excruciating. I realized that if my body had reacted to the small amount of vaccine like that, I knew I didn’t want shingles anywhere on my body. The literature says that only 1 out of 3 people will have any kind of reaction.

The shingles vaccine has only been around for three years. If you are not up on lastest medical treatments you might not even be aware of it.

Unfortunately, current data suggests that the vaccine only reduces the risk in 50% of the people receiving it, but it can reduce the pain in people who still get the shingles after having been vaccinated. The vaccine is especially  recommended for those over the age of 60.

There are some people who shouldn’t get the vaccine. If you are allergic to gelatin and have ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to it, the antibiotic neomycin, or any other component of the shingles vaccine you shouldn’t get it. However, the flyer I got didn’t say what the other components of the vaccine were. To my knowledge I’ve never had a physical reaction to any medication so that didn’t concern me. Perhaps, however, I should have asked anyway.

Those who have AIDS or any other disease that weakens the immune system or those who are on prolonged use of high-dose steroids should also not get the vaccine. Radiation like chemotherapy weakens the immune system as well.

They suggested that I wait in the waiting room for 15 minutes after the injection. If anyone is going to have a severe allergic reaction, it would occur within a few minutes to an hour after the shot.

This is a live vaccine. It is a choice that someone has to make. There are risks involved, but there are also benefits. It hasn’t been around long enough to determine its effect in the general population other than for those who participated in the field studies. You’ll have to make up your own minds. I have friends who are against any and all vaccines. Personally, I figure anything that can reduce or free me of potential pain is worth the risk.  I get a flu shot every year, I’ve had the pneumonia vaccine, the H1N1 and, because of having moderately raised levels of liver enzymes, my doctor recommended the Hepatitis A and B vaccines as well. I’ve had my first set of those. I go back in a month and then in six months. I’m not looking forward to the last two shots but at least that one didn’t hurt after the initial discomfort of the injection.

My doctor says that doctors are usually the last in line to receive any of the vaccine medications. He recommended I go to the county health clinic. The wait was not especially long. There were also two other women there to get the shingles vaccine. I guess you might have better luck with less of a crowd if you wait until flu season is over. Think about it. I did.

Namaste. Attic Annie



Filed under Casual conversation, diary, general topics, life, Uncategorized

4 responses to “Now you can protect yourself from shingles

  1. Pingback: Now you can protect yourself from shingles | Health News

  2. atticannie

    From what I understand, anybody who has had chickenpox is a candidate. It seems to affect the elderly more often because many of them have weakened immune systems. Thanks for the input. I wish you a very happy 2010. AA

  3. I had always thought shingles only afflicted the elderly, but was proven wrong when my son had it at about age 11. Luckily, his was a very minor case, and he had only a very small rash on his upper back. Poor kid suffered for days while we brushed it off as excema, until his complaints finally caused us enough concern to take him to the doctor.

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