Don’t Let Chicken Pox Come Back to Haunt You
If you remember having chicken pox as a child, as
most people did in the days before a vaccine was available, you are at risk of developing shingles as an adult. That’s because the virus that causes chicken pox— herpes zoster—remains in your nerve roots for the rest of your life. In most people, the virus lies dormant. But for others, the virus reactivates as shingles, causing a rash and intense pain.
This spring, new guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration have expanded the approval of the shingles vaccine Zostavax for use in individuals age 50 to 59. The vaccine was introduced in 2006 for use in people age 60 and older. Because the older a person is, the more severe the effects of shingles typically are, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends seniors get the shingles vaccination. The vaccination is effective for at least six years, but may last much longer.
In clinical trials, the vaccine was shown to reduce the risk of shingles by 50 percent and help prevent long-term pain after shingles heals by 67 percent, according to the CDC. “Shingles is most common in older adults,” according to Dr. Kulbir Bajwa, an internal medicine physician with the NorthBay Center for Primary Care in Vacaville.
“Although it’s not clear what causes a shingles outbreak, we believe a stressful situation or a weakened immune system can activate it.”
Shingles often starts with a headache or flu-like symptoms. Later, itching or pain will develop in one area of your body. A few days later a rash appears and turns into clusters of blisters. The blisters can last for
a month or more and may leave scars.
“The shingles rash follows one nerve root, so the rash may be a long thin line,” Dr. Bajwa explains. “The rash commonly starts at the spine and moves to one side of the chest or belly. But it can also involve the face or eyes, where it becomes a much more vicious disease.”
There is no cure for shingles, although treatment with an anti-viral medicine may shorten the span of the disease and help prevent other problems. While shingles is not contagious, a person with an active case can transmit chicken pox to someone not vaccinated.
Dr. Bajwa is located at the NorthBay Center for Primary Care in Vacaville. For an appointment, call (707) 624-7500.