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Check Your Health: What Are Shingles And What's The Vaccine?

January 9, 2012 by Special To The ...

Check Your Health.jpgCheck Your Health is a new web-only feature being offered monthly by The Cheshire Herald. Each month, a professional from MidState Medical Group will offer advice on a different issue pertaining to health. For our first installment, Shingles are explore.

What do you know about the Shingles’ vaccine?
First, let’s be sure you know about the Shingles disease.
Also known as Herpes Zoster, Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. This virus can live and remain inactive in nerve roots within your body for many years. If it becomes active again, usually later in life from a stressor, it can cause Shingles. Older adults have difficulty defending against viruses. There are approximately 1 million cases of Shingles in adults over 60 years old each year.
The first signs of Shingles are often felt and not seen. This is why it is hard to diagnose. When diagnosis is more than 72 hours after symptoms, then treatment is usually not effective. What are some of those signs? Some symptoms include itching, tingling, burning, pain, and a rash of fluid filled blisters. Generally these occur only on one side of your body or face. Blisters may take 2-4 weeks to heal.
The after effects of Shingles can be pain that is quite severe. For most people, the pain from the rash lessens as it heals. But for some, the pain can last months to years or even permanently. “Post-herpetic neuralgia” as it is called damages the nerves. Skin is so sensitive that even the touch of clothing or sheets can be painful. Other long term problems from Shingles can be infection of skin, scarring, muscle weakness, or loss of vision or hearing. These after effects can sometimes be disabling.
The Vaccine called Zostavax is made by MERCK and was approved in 2006. It’s used to prevent Shingles in adults over age 50. The vaccine cannot treat Shingles or the nerve pain that follows. You can get the vaccine whether you remember having chickenpox or not. You can get the vaccine if you have had a Shingles infection in the past. However, the vaccine is not 100% effective. If you do get Shingles after the vaccine, it can lessen the intensity of the disease and it can help prevent the nerve pain afterwards. Protection beyond 4 years is not known. The need for revaccination is not yet known either.
The vaccine is given as a single shot and is a live virus. You should not get the Zostavax vaccine if: you are allergic to Gelatin or Neomycin, have a weakened immune system (i.e., cancer, rheumatoid arthritis), are sick with a fever, have an untreated illness like Tuberculosis, are on high dose steroids, are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. You should have other vaccines 4 weeks apart from this one, particularly the Pneumonia vaccine. Some side effects can occur from this vaccine as in any vaccine. The main ones are redness, pain, itching, swelling, warmth, bruising at the injection site, and headache.
How is it paid for? Most commercial insurance plans do cover the vaccine. You should contact your insurance provider to find out. However, Medicare Part B (which covers most other office vaccines) does not cover the Shingles vaccine. Medicare Part D plans do cover the Shingles vaccine. The amount of copay for vaccination varies according to your prescription plan.
I hope this sheds light on this fairly new vaccine. Our thought for the future is this: The Varicella vaccine (chickenpox vaccine) for children has reduced natural infection by 75-80%. Will the Shingles vaccine affect the decline of Shingles? There are no trends yet but let’s hope so.

Shirley Samy, MSN, APRN
Adult Nurse Practitioner
MidState Medical Group Women’s Primary Care

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