Thursday, October 11, 2012

What I learned from my shingles scare

girl with bookHave you met anyone who’s had shingles? If so, they probably have a lot to tell you about their experience.

My mother-in-law, who is a lung cancer survivor, says the pain associated with healing from her lung cancer surgery was nothing in comparison to the pain she experienced from the shingles outbreak she suffered 10 years ago at age 73.

My mother-in-law had not heard of the shingles vaccine, even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults age 60 and older get the vaccine, which helps reduce the risk of getting shingles by about half and reduces the severity and duration of the outbreak by more than 65 percent.

The shingles vaccine works by protecting the body from a reactivation of the chickenpox virus that most people (98 percent) are exposed to during childhood.

I’ve not had the shingles vaccine, as my doctor told me it was only indicated for folks 60 and older. I am in my early 50s.

About six months ago I woke up with a severe rash with red raised bumps on one side of my neck. The rash was very itchy. I checked the CDC website and read that a shingles rash is red and blistering, and may first appear in a localized section on one side of the body or face.

I read that if you catch the virus early enough, within 72 hours of the onset of symptoms, the vaccine can help reduce the severity and duration of a shingles outbreak. I also read that if you think you have shingles, talk to your healthcare professional as soon as possible.

As it was a Sunday, I went to the local urgent care facility and waited to see the physician.

The doctor was great. She praised me for being in tune with my body and knowing some of the facts. Indeed, she told me she’d seen two cases of shingles earlier in the week, one in a 50-year-old man and another in a 34-year-old woman. So you never know who is going to get it.

She asked me if I was stressed (of course) or had a compromised immune system (no), as there is greater potential to contract shingles when these conditions occur.

She told me that one out of three people will get the disease in their lifetime. She said shingles can be very painful and there is no treatment to cure it.

Sometimes, she said, people may develop long-term nerve pain (as in my mother-in-law’s case), or the rash might leave permanent scarring or, in rare cases, loss of hearing or vision when shingles involves the ears or eyes.

In looking more closely at my rash, she said it looked more like bug or spider bites than a shingles rash.


Later that day I called my mom to ask her if she’d had a shingles vaccination. She had, but my parents weren’t sure if my dad needed one because he’d had a mild case of shingles years earlier.

According to the CDC, even if you’ve had shingles you can still receive the shingles vaccine to help prevent or reduce future occurrences of the disease.

What did I learn from this experience?

Listen to your

“tribe.” It was my mother-in-law and my neighbor who made me aware of the disease.

Learn the facts. Reputable websites offer a wealth of information.

When in doubt, consult the experts.

And pay it forward—sharing my story might encourage others to talk to their doctor about shingles.

Note: According to the CDC, some people age 60 and older should not get the vaccine. To learn more go to www.cdc. gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/shingles/ default.htm.

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Categories: Elder HealthNumber of views: 1729

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Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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