As I child I still remember my Mom talking about some funny named, horribly painful rash my grandmother had on her leg. I now know that what she had was shingles. I admittedly didn’t know much about the disease until recently, but as my parents get closer to turning 60, the recommended age for vaccination according to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), I became much more interested in learning about the virus.
For approximately 1 million Americans, the chickenpox they endured as a child will return in in the form of shingles each year and vaccination is the only method of prevention. Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is caused by the varicella zoster virus that first presented itself as chickenpox. Once this viral infection has infected the body, it does not leave. It may lie dormant and never present a problem after the initial infection, but there is no guarantee. It is estimated that people in their sixties run a thirty percent chance of developing the vaccine-preventable disease while nearly half of people in their eighties will be affected according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It is also worth noting that people with compromised immune systems due to conditions such as cancer, organ transplants, and autoimmune disorders are at an increased risk of developing shingles.
Shingles usually starts as a painful rash on one side of the face or body that begins to blister and then scab in 7-10 days, clearing up in 2-4 weeks. Shingles can cause fever, headache, chills and an upset stomach, and in rare cases the rash can be widespread and can even affect the eye, causing loss of vision in extreme cases. Some unfortunate victims may suffer from postherpetic neuralgia, or pain caused by nerve damage, for weeks, months, or even years. This nerve damage can actually cause skin to be so sensitive that the touch of clothing can cause excruciating pain.
As is the case with most vaccine-preventable diseases, passing on immunization has a broader impact than you may think. Shingles IS contagious and CAN be spread from an affected person to babies, children, or even adults who have not had OR been fully vaccinated against chickenpox. A person without natural or acquired (immunized) immunity to the virus will not develop shingles, instead chickenpox will be the ailment that causes time off from school, work, or even a hospital stay should complications arise.
For my grandmother, shingles was not a one-time event. She developed shingles, not once, not twice, but three times and suffered years of pain caused by nerve damage. For her, there was no preventative measure as the vaccine was not available, but you have a choice. You can avoid the painful, preventable infection. Don’t suffer unnecessarily. Get vaccinated today and save yourself, and possibly someone else, from a vaccine-preventable disease!