Dear Dr. Garner,
My husband is a really tough guy. He had no problem with kidney stones and even has a Purple Heart from Korea.
He finally has met his match in shingles. I have never seen in him so much pain. I am really annoyed that our doctor never told us that there was a vaccine to prevent this from happening.
What do you think of the vaccine? Should my husband have gotten it? He is 75 years old and I hope he does not get it again.
Shingled in Sheepshead Bay
The good news is that your husband will most likely never have a case of shingles again.
Before addressing your question, let’s review what shingles is.
Shingles is a painful skin rash, often with blisters. It can look very similar to chicken pox. It is also called herpes zoster or sometimes just zoster. It can occur in anyone who has had chicken pox in his or lifetime, which includes most of us older than 50 years of age.
The rash usually appears on one side of the face or body, and lasts about two to four weeks. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people often experience pain, itching or tingling in the area where the rash will develop. This may happen anywhere from one to five days before the rash appears.
Because the virus affects the underlying nervous system, the pain can be unbearable.
Other symptoms can include fever, headache, chills and stomach upset. On rare occasion it can lead to blindness if it is on the face, and inflammation of the brain. Some develop a chronic painful condition that can last for years, which can affect as many as one third of those over 75 years of age.
You can’t catch shingles from another person with shingles, however a person who has never had chicken pox (or the chicken pox vaccine) could get chicken pox from someone with shingles.
Shingles is most common in people 50 years of age and older. It is also more common in people whose immune systems are weakened because of diseases such as cancer or those taking steroids or chemotherapy.
At least 1 million people per year in the U.S. suffer from shingles.
Reduces the Risk
Now, here is the good part: Since 2006 a vaccine for shingles has been licensed. The vaccine is highly effective, and reduces the risk of developing shingles by 51 percent, according to the CDC.
The CDC has recommended that all adults over the age of 60 get the shingles vaccine. The vaccine is available in pharmacies and doctors’ offices.
In the past there have been concerns about storage conditions, vaccine shortages and reimbursement from insurance companies. These are just a few reasons why widespread shingles vaccine use has not occurred.
While the vaccine is safe with few side effects, it is best to discuss with your doctor whether you are a candidate for the vaccine. Those with immune system problems and certain drug allergies may not be eligible to receive the vaccine.
There are some medications available which may reduce the pain and duration of the disease. They work best when started as soon as possible, so at the first sign of a painful rash, it is important to see your doctor.
It is hoped that children, who are now vaccinated against chicken pox, will not have to suffer from this painful condition.
I am glad that you have brought this disease to the attention of readers, and have helped issue a reminder that those over 60 should be vaccinated.
Dr. Garner is a Fidelis Care provider who is affiliated with New York Methodist Hospital, Park Slope. He also hosts “Ask the Doctor” on NET-TV, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Time Warner Channel 97 and Cablevision Channel 30.