Ever Had Chicken Pox? Then Think “Shingles”

If you are one of the 90% of Americans who has had a case of chicken pox, then you are susceptible to a reappearance of that infection in the form of shingles.  As you get older, the virus that caused your chicken pox (herpes zoster) can somehow become reactivated, causing it to migrate along nerve pathways to the surface of the skin – often on or near your face.  Severe pain, tingling and itching followed by blisters are common and can persist for up to 14 days.  The rash can affect your sight or hearing if it appears on your face and the pain can linger for months or years as a complication known as post-herpetic neuralgia.  Several studies suggest that immune-suppressing drugs like those used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel syndrome may increase susceptibility to shingles.

However, the herpes zoster vaccine (Zostavax) may prevent shingles or its recurrence. The CDC recommends that healthy adults 60 and older get the vaccine, yet only 14.4% of such Americans have done so. The drug is generally well tolerated (it is made from a strain of the zoster virus) and is approved for adults 50 and over.  In patients 60 and over, the vaccine success rate was 51% for preventing shingles and 67% for preventing post-herpetic neuralgia. The younger the patient, the more effective it is, so speak to your doctor about getting the injection soon.


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