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By Trishna Buch
The first question that may have popped to your mind
when you read this headline was “what is Shingles?”
Some of you may have an idea of what shingles is. “It’s
something to do with chicken pox, right?” And some of
you may have no idea what this virus is; which is less
likely (I assume most everyone knows about said virus)
but there’s nothing to worry about if you don’t. That’s
what I’m here for.
Shingles, according to the Centers For Disease Control
And Prevention, is a “painful rash that usually develops
on one side of the body, often the face or torso.” People
who get the shingles virus are prone to seeing blisters
appear on different parts of their body; most of which
will clear up within a month—sometimes in less time.
When my dad came down with Shingles, he had a rash
on the side of his face, near his ear, which cleared up
within three weeks. Shingles, which is also known as the
Herpes Zoster virus or the Zoster virus, is caused by the
same virus that causes chickenpox. This is the Varicella
Zoster virus and, once a person contracts chickenpox,
this virus remains inside of them and, for some people,
may reawaken as Shingles.
I don’t know the science behind the Shingles virus, but
I like to think I know a decent amount about the virus
because I have a personal experience with it. Ten years
ago, my father contracted the virus while we were on
a road trip through Europe. At that time, my family and
I were living in Belgium, and we had planned to drive
from Belgium to Switzerland, via Germany, My dad had
noticed a rash on his ear but, because he thought it was
a mosquito bite, he just took some cream and we went
on our road trip. Unfortunately, one morning he was eating
breakfast and suddenly started feeling the symptoms
of a heart attack. We rushed to the hospital and, before
we knew it, he was in a hospital room, and being given
test after test after test. The long story short was that he
had contracted Shingles and, because we caught the
virus so late, he had to stay in the hospital for two week
and get his medicines through a drip. And, because we
hadn’t caught the virus on time, he lost a lot of his muscle
movement—becoming paralyzed on one side of his
body. My sister and I would do muscle movement exercises
with him every day to help him get his movement
back. Fortunately he’s okay now, but it was quite stressful
at the time. And this is why I feel it important to tell you
about ways to protect yourself from this virus.
According to my research, the virus that causes
Shingles is inside everyone who has contracted chickenpox,
but there is no way to know if it will reawaken.
That is why it’s important to get vaccinated, so you don’t
run the risk of having to tell people that “I had Shingles.”
Since 2006, the vaccine that protected against Shingles
was called Zostavax. According to the CDC, this vaccine
is recommended for people aged 60 and older, was
licensed in 2006 and reduces the risk of getting shingles
by 51 percent. The CDC also listed out some of the
side effects of the vaccine, such as redness, soreness
and swelling at the injection site, as well as headaches.
And the CDC also stated that people with a weakened
immune system, pregnant women or people with allergies
to any ingredient in the vaccine should not take the
Zostavax vaccine.
But a new vaccine to protect oneself from Shingles
has recently been approved by the Food and Drug
Administration. This is a vaccine called Shingrix and,
according to an article by Consumer Reports, it seems
that this vaccine is more effective than Zostavax in
providing long-lasting protection against the virus. The
main differences between the
two vaccines is that, unlike
Zostavax, Shingrix is recommended
for people starting
in their 50s—ten years earlier
than the Zostavax recommendation—
and consists of taking
the vaccine in two doses, at
two to six months apart.
This new vaccine might be a
better alternative to Zostavax.
While the latter is recommended
to people over the age of 60, it has been approved
for people between the ages of 50 and 59. However, as
mentioned in this article, this vaccine only reduces the
risk of catching Shingles by 51 percent while, according
to Consumer Reports, Shingrix provides “97 percent
protection in people in their 50s and 60s and roughly 91
percent protection in those in their 70s and 80s.” And,
of course, like any other vaccine Shingrix comes with
its share of side effects and recommendations on who
should not get it. These side effects include redness,
pain and swelling at the injection site as well as muscle
ache, shivering and fatigue. And people who are recommended
not to take the vaccine include pregnant women,
women who are breastfeeding or people with life threatening
allergies. And according to the article by Consumer
Shingrix would most likely be covered by most private
insurers, but would cost $280 for both vaccines, if you
would be paying out of pocket.
If you are looking into protecting yourself against
the Shingles virus and want to be vaccinated, I urge you
to research both vaccinations and chose one that, you
feel, is the best choice for you. But do take precautions to
protect yourself, especially if you are over the age of 50,
because you just don’t know if the virus will reawaken in
you. And, based on my dad’s experience, I tell you with
confidence—you don’t want to wait around to find out if it
will reawaken.

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