I am often asked by elder persons whether or not they should take the herpes zoster (“shingles”) vaccine. Up until this point, I have been answering “yes” based on my own experience, but now there is some data to support this recommendation.
We think of chickenpox as a childhood disease, but there are adult cases and they tend to lead to more serious complications.
Chickenpox is caused by the varicella virus and it is extremely contagious. Most people are exposed in childhood (or they receive the chicken pox vaccine), and so adults rarely contract it. It is especially dangerous for pregnant women because the fetus can become infected. The latency period from infection exposure to disease is 10 to 21 days. Read more »
Shingles (herpes zoster) is no fun. It usually begins with a couple of days of pain, then a painful rash breaks out and lasts a couple of weeks. The rash consists of blisters that eventually break open, crust over, and consolidate into an ugly plaque. It is localized to one side of the body and to a stripe of skin corresponding to the dermatomal distribution of a sensory nerve.
Very rarely a shingles infection can lead to pneumonia, hearing problems, blindness, brain inflammation (encephalitis) or death. More commonly, patients develop postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) in the area where the rash was. The overall incidence of PHN is 20%; after the age of 60 this rises to 40%, and after age 70 it rises to 50%. It can be excruciatingly painful, resistant to treatment, and can last for years or even a lifetime. Read more »
We’ve all heard about the importance of getting our flu shots this season, but did you know that there are 10 vaccines commonly recommended for adults? I spoke with Dave Lucas at ABC News about the low rates of adult vaccinations in the US, and encouraged people to ask their doctors if they’re up to date with their vaccinations.
I ran into an old friend this past week and, as all of us over 60 do, we began talking about our health and the various ailments afflicting us as we age.
He shared with me that he was currently dealing with a bad case of the “shingles” (known as Herpes Zoster in medical circles) at age 65 and how terribly painful they were. He said that he wouldn’t wish them on his worst enemy.
As many of you may know because you’ve suffered a similar problem, shingles is caused by the Varicella Zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox.
Only someone who has had a case of chickenpox – or gotten chickenpox vaccine – can get shingles. The virus stays in your body and it can reappear many years later to cause a case of shingles.
Always being the doctor, I asked my friend whether or not he’d gotten the vaccine to help reduce his risk of getting shingles.
He acted shocked and was quite angry as he explained that he’d never been told by his doctor about that there was a vaccine available that might prevent shingles.
The vaccine available for adults 60 and over to prevent shingles is called Zostavax. In clinical trials, the vaccine prevented shingles in about half of people 60 years of age and older. Even if you do get shingles after being vaccinated, it may help reduce the pain associated with shingles but it cannot be used to treat shingles once you have it.
I’m really not pushing the Zostavax vaccine because it’s not recommended for everyone but rather am reminding everyone that prevention is much better than treating after someone has a disease.
Talk to your doctor at your yearly visit to see what preventive steps you should be taking.
Check the CDC website for more information about vaccines that might be right for you especially if you are traveling to other countries.
Frankly, if your doctor is not talking to you about preventing disease, then it just might be time to find another doctor.
About Kevin Soden, MD
Dr. Kevin Soden has been a medical journalist for over 20 years appearing on CBS, NBC and most recently on NBC’s Today Show. He now serves as the host for Healthline, the national award-winning daily medical television show seen on the Retirement Living Network. He also serves as the worldwide Medical Director for Texas Instruments and Cardinal Health and teaches as a courtesy Professor at the Univ. of Florida College of Medicine.
His awards include 3 Telly’s, the 2008 CableFax award for best cable health show, the 2008 and 2001 National Award for Excellence in Medical Reporting from the National Association of Medical Communicators, a finalist for the International Freddie Awards in 2001, and as the Executive Producer for Rush of the Palms received the 2003 International Film Critics award for short films.
Kevin published The Art of Medicine: What Every Doctor and Patient Should Know…a critically acclaimed book focusing on improving doctor-patient communications. He is also the primary author of a consumer medical book Special Treatment: How to Get the High-Quality Care Your Doctor Gets. He is also a contributing author to the recently published A Practical Approach to Occupational and Environmental Medicine and to Physician Leaders: Who, How and Why Now? He has just finished his third book Think Like a Man: Male Behaviors that Can Help Woman Lighten the Load, Loosen Up and Find Happiness in a Stress-Filled World. He also is a regular contributor to numerous popular magazines.
Soden graduated with honors from the University of Florida College of Medicine and is one of the original inductees into the UF Medical Wall of Fame. He also has a Masters in Public Health from the Medical College of Wisconsin and a Masters in Personnel Administration from Florida State University.
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