Saturday, January 2, 2010

Only on the Roof, Please

Last week my parents asked me a medical question (I’m a doctor- it happens). A friend of theirs just had shingles and suffered. A lot. Photoxpress_5068751

My parents now wanted to know “if the shingles vaccine is worth it.”

Shingles, or varicella-zoster, occurs in individuals sometime after chickenpox. After the immune system “conquers” the varicella (chickenpox) virus, this wily pathogen lies in our nerve cells, waiting. Waiting. Waiting…

As we age or develop problems with immunity, the virus can be reactivated, producing blistering lesions along a nerve root. Like chicken pox on steroids…

If the zoster (shingles) weren’t bad enough, severe pain may persist in the affected area for months after the rash heals. My parents’ friend has such pain that she cannot drive 3 months after the flare.

I have not suffered shingles personally, but I have seen it in my immunosuppressed patient population. The vaccine reduces the risk of shingles by ~50%, and post-herpetic pain (the fancy doctor-talk name for the nerve pain) by ~2/3.

I told my parents to get that vaccine. Even though the level of protection is not as good as with childhood vaccines (which are 95+% effective in preventing most infections), shingles is a bitch.

The CDC has a great site with FAQs and podcasts about this topic for patients and healthcare workers.

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the post. I hadn't heard of it - given it's for people 60+.