by : Myrna Aquitania

Isabel Rivas

Isabel Rivas

Six months ago, I learned about the shingles virus when a sorority sister informed us that she has the virus but we can’t visit her because it was contagious. This was the first time I heard about this virus.but never realized the scope and severity of it, until my sister Isabel, who was just visiting from Manila was rushed to Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach recently. For someone like her who was just here visiting, this was “culture shock” and a harrowing experience.

According to the information sheet of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, shingles or “herpes zoster” is an outbreak of rash or blisters on one side of the body, which is caused by the chickenpox virus or “varicella zoster.” This chickenpox virus remains dormant in the spinal column until another condition such as stress or a weakend immune system prompts the virus to travel through the nerves and cause a shingles outbreak.

The first signs or symptoms of shingles include: pain, tingling or itchy feeling on one side of the body, sometimes combining it with headache, nausea, abdominal discomfort and high temperature, which lasts two to three days. When the fluid-filled lesions or blisters appear, severe and excruciating pain is felt. Sometimes, the blisters vary in number and is scattered throughout the body but most of the time, they appear on one side of the body in a band-like appearance, that’s why they are called “cingulum,” which means girdle or belt. Likewise, in my sister’s case, her pain was concentrated in her lower back and around the “girdle” area.

Eventually, the lesions or blisters break open. Per Isabel’s ordeal, this was the most painful shingles stage because the topical ointment which helps ease out the pain is a steroid which evoked a burning sensation when applied. However, as they heal, a crust forms over the blisters. And, in very rare cases, shingles infection can lead to hearing problems, blindness, pneumonia, brain inflammation (encephalitis) or death. Statistics show that 1 in 5 persons may continue to feel severe pain even long after the rash clears up. This is called “post-herpetic neuralgia” or PHN.

Shingles is usually common to people 50 years of age or older than in younger people. It is also more common in people whose immune system is weakened because of a disease such as cancer or drugs such as steroids and chemotherapy.. At least, 1 million people a year in the United States get shingles.

In my desire to visit my sister in Newport Beach, my doctor gave me the Zostavax vaccine as a preventative, though there is no assurance that by having the vaccine, I won’t have the shingles virus. Nevertheless, it might prevent nerve pain in case I acquire it.

There are numerous types of shingles vaccines nowadays. These shingles vaccines have been licensed by the FDA in 2006. In clinical trials, these vaccines reduce the risk of contracting shingles by 50%. It can also reduce pain in people who still get shingles after being vaccinated.

The shingles vaccine is not recommended on people with the following situations:

a). AIDS or another disease that affect the immune system, such as prolonged or high dose of steroids;
b). Cancer treatment or radiation therapy;
c). Cancer affecting the bone marrow or lymphatic system, such as leukemia or lymphoma;
d). Women who are pregnant and might become pregnant until at least 4 weeks after getting the shingles vaccine;
e) People with acute illnesses or anyone with a temperature of 101.3 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

Shingles vaccines, like any medicine, could possibly cause serious problems, such as allergic reactions. However, the risk of a vaccine causing serious harm, or death is extremely small. So far, there have been no serious problems identified with the shingles vaccines..

If you or someone you know have adverse reactions on the shingles vaccines, you should call your doctor immediately or you may report it by filing a Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) form or log on to their website at: or by calling: 1-800-822-7967.

As the saying goes: “health is wealth;” or “an ounce of prevention is a pound of cure.” Be safe and well!