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Health June 2018

Shingles Shape-up

By Carrie Slayback

“Get the new shingles vaccine,” my doctor  ordered. “This new vaccine prevents more than 90 percent of shingles cases, even at older ages; the former vaccination only helped half my patients over 60 and fewer of my older patients.

Standing in a hotel room a year ago, my husband dropped his pajama pants to expose a rash on his hip. Looking over his shoulder accusingly, he said, “Get rid of your 'water saving' note telling the maids not to change the sheets! This place has bed bugs.”

Turned out he had shingles. “How could that happen?” he asked his doctor when we returned home. “I had the vaccination."

“Vaccine wears off in about five years,” his doctor told him.

Yesterday I went for my yearly physical. “Get the new shingles vaccine,” my doctor  ordered. “This new vaccine [Shingrix] prevents more than 90 percent of shingles cases, even at older ages; the former vaccination, Zostavax, only helped half my patients over 60 and fewer of my older patients.

The doctor continued “Get the booster shot — two to six months after the first. We think it may give you up to 10 years’ immunity. Nothing boosts seniors' immunity like this. Check your insurance, if not covered it’s around $280.”

You bet I’ll get vaccinated. Shingles is a virus that originates with childhood chicken pox and stays in the body for life, lingering in nerve cells running parallel to the spine. Centers for Disease Control [CDC] says “Your immune system normally keeps the virus in check. But…by 55, 30-40% of people have lost immunity…and the virus can reawaken.” And by age 85, 50% of the population will develop shingles.

Generally the virus travels to one side of the waist, half encircling it, but it can spread along a nerve leading to the eye, causing blindness. CDC lists other rare complications as pneumonia, hearing problems, brain inflammation (encephalitis), or death. However “its main medical symptom is pain [which] can be intense and debilitating. While the pain usually subsides after 3-4 weeks, …it can turn into a chronic pain syndrome called post-herpetic neuralgia, [PHN] which you should not wish on your worst enemy.”

In a first, the usually slow moving U.S. Centers for Disease Control immunization  advisory committee (ACIP,) issued a statement recommending the new drug, Shingrix, over the former established Zostavax.

I’ve never before advocated a drug, but here’s what the research to date shows:\

Zostavax, the former standard of care, cut shingles outbreaks by 51%, but people lost protection in about five years. It was less effective with people over 70, and could not be used for people on chemo or with compromised immune systems.

he new vaccine, Shingrix, is more than 90% effective against the virus, seems to work for people over 70, and can be used for people on chemo or with compromised immune systems. Professor Tony Cunningham writing in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, says that  Shingrix offers protection for up to four years but he believes it will last longer. "The second dose of the vaccine is important to ensure long-term protection – even for those over 70 years of age. This is quite remarkable because there are no other vaccines that perform nearly as well for people in their 70s and their 80s. We are seeing results comparable to those of childhood vaccinations.”

 

What Are the Side Effects of Shingrix?

The CDC lists most common side effects — “pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site, muscle pain, tiredness, headache, shivering, fever, and upset stomach, related to the immune system’s response to the vaccine.” These reactions were classified as mild to moderate in intensity, lasting less than three days.”

 

Who Should Not Get Shingrix?

  • Anyone who had a severe reaction to any component of the vaccine. Consult your doctor.
  • If you tested negative to chicken pox virus immunity, get inoculated against chickenpox instead.
  • Currently have shingles.
  • Are pregnant or breast-feeding……probably not an issue for us olders.
  • Are sick, have a fever of 101 or higher.

 

Who Should Get the New Vaccine?

  • Healthy adults over 50.
  • People who have had shingles.
  • Already had Zostavax vaccination.
  • Not sure if you had chickenpox.

As for my husband, his doctor said his shingles would have been worse if he were unvaccinated. He swears that Listerine swabs helped his rash subside. He’s going with me to get the new vaccine. You can contract shingles twice!

 

Carrie Luger Slayback, an award winning teacher and champion marathoner, shares personal experience and careful research. Contact her at c This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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