If you ever had chicken pox as a child or even an adult, you are at risk of developing shingles when you are older.
And shingles can be a very painful condition.
It is a viral infection of the nerve roots causing pain and a band of rash that spreads on one side of your body.
One in five people with shingles go on to suffer from post herpetic neuralgia and that is when the real problems start.
The shingles infection can be divided into three phases
- The pre-eruptive phase with early symptoms of burning, itching and generally feeling unwell.
- The acute eruptive phase where skin lesions appear with possibly severe pain.
- The chronic phase with is persistent pain lasting 30 days or more after the lesions have crusted and this third phase is the post herpetic neuralgia.
You will be wondering whether shingles can be cured once it develops
The hard fact is that there is no cure for shingles.
But shingles can be treated and such treatment should be commenced as quickly as possible because early treatment can shorten the length of the illness and reduce both the severity of the symptoms and the risk of complications. There are preventative treatments to use to control the frequency of future outbreaks too.
But the interesting news is that there is also a vaccine for shingles and it is called Zostervax
There is a lot of talk at the moment about vaccines and how safe they are. Many people are unhappy about vaccines.
The vaccine for shingles was licensed in 2006 so has now been monitored for some years but a vaccine needs to be used for at least ten years before it can be considered as possibly safe. It is no use taking the vaccine once you have had shingles. But in the clinical trials, the vaccine prevented shingles in approximately 50% of those aged 60 years and older. And you only need one dose. Shingles is surprisingly common with at least 1 million people a year in the US developing the condition.
Be aware that there some people who should not get the shingles vaccine
- Those who have ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to gelatin, the antibiotic neomycin, or to any other component of the shingles vaccine.
- Those with a weakened immune system for any reason such as HIV/AIDS; treatment with drugs such as steroids; cancer treatment such as radiation or chemotherapy; a history of cancer affecting the bone marrow or lymphatic system, such as leukemia or lymphoma; and tuberculosis.
There is always a risk of a vaccine causing serious harm or death
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, no serious problems have been identified with the shingles vaccine.
They report that mild problems would be redness, soreness, swelling or itching at the site of the injection in about 1 person in 3 and a headache in about 1 person in 70.
Even though the shingles vaccine has been available for the past 3 years, only 7% of Americans who are in the target age group have received the vaccine. The vaccination is expensive – between $200 and $500.
There is a national effort on the part of medical practitioners to improve the immunization rates with the shingles vaccination. For more information, you can visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention here
If elderly people (grandparents for example) are in contact with young children when they have chickenpox (grandchildren) they boost their own antibodies so that they are less likely to develop shingles. This is one of the reasons why the vaccine against chickenpox has not become part of the childhood protocol for vaccinations in the UK. The country was concerned that the older members of the population would be more at risk if the children were prevented from developing chicken pox (which is a comparatively mild disease) in the old fashioned way.
I would never have the vaccine myself as I am satisfied that I have boosted my antibodies by looking after my grandchild when she was ill recently with chickenpox in the UK and I have become very wary of vaccines in general.