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Shingles Recurrence: Can The Vaccine Help?

This month’s Harvard Health Letter has an article about getting shingles a second or even a third time. (Click here to read the full article.) The bottom line is that recurrence is a) certainly possible and b) if some recent research is correct, much more common than previously thought and about as likely as getting shingles in the first place if you’re age 60 or older.

I talked to Barbara Yawn, M.D., director of research at the Olmsted Medical Center in Rochester, Minn., for the article and mentioned results that she and her colleagues first presented at a conference several years ago.

Yawn reported a more complete version of those results in last month’s issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings (a favorite journal of mine). Full text of the study isn’t available unless you have a subscription to the journal, but here’s a summary (in medical publishing, such summaries are called abstracts.)

Melinda Beck, a health columnist for the Wall Street Journal,  had a column about shingles last week and this how she neatly summed up Yawn’s research:

For the new study on shingles recurrence, researchers at the Olmsted Medical Center in Rochester, Minn., examined medical records of nearly 1,700 patients who had a documented case of shingles between 1996 and 2001. They found that more than 5% of them were treated for a second episode within an average of eight years—about the same rate as would typically experience a first case.

And here is a link to the Journal Watch item of the study and a short comment by the Journal Watch editor. Journal Watch is a monthly newsletter published by the Massachusetts Medical Society that summarizes and comments on recently published research.

In the Mayo Clinic Proceedings paper, Yawn and her colleagues report that 95 of the 1,669 people with an “index” case of shingles got shingles again over the course of a follow-up period that averaged 7.3 years, which works out to about 5.6 percent of the shingles sufferers. Six people had two recurrences and two had three! The timing of recurrence varied from 96 days to 10 years after the initial episode. In 45 percent of those who got shingles again, the site of the recurrence was in a different region of the body than the site of the first case. They also noted that the single biggest risk factor for having a second case of shingles was having pain that lasted 30 days or longer during the first case. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

Vaccines: Top 10 Reasons To Get Your Shots

Vaccines have saved more lives than any other medical intervention in history. They are incredibly safe and effective and are well-tolerated by most people. In the US, the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) carefully reviews all reports of adverse reactions that could be associated with vaccines. Over decades of review, they have found that the rate of potential severe reactions is so low that they cannot even calculate a risk.

There are many vaccines available for babies, children, and adults. Please check these vaccine schedules to make sure that you and your family are fully protected from vaccine-preventable diseases. (Or you can ask your doctor/nurse to review your vaccine needs with you in person.)

Vaccines for ages 0-6 click here.

Vaccines for ages 7-18 click here.

Vaccines for adults click here.

In case you have any doubts about the value of protecting yourself from disease, here are my top 10 reasons to get vaccinated: Read more »

New Study: Shingles Vaccine Is Safe And Effective

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 »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

Don’t Forget Your Shingles Vaccine

A Guest Blog by Kevin Soden, MD

Kevin Soden, MD

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.

*This blog post was originally published at Health in 30*

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