Are You Too Young For Shingles?

Painful zoster virus is affecting more age groups than vaccination guidelines suggest.

By Kevin RR Williams

HEALTH Shingles is a manifestation of the (herpes) zoster virus, often seen as a painful skin rash with blisters of similar though varried appearance on one median of the body based on the particular dermatome affected. An initial infection with of the varicella zoster virus, most often resulting from (childhood) chickenpox, lays dormant within the ganglia adjacent to the spinal cord. How the virus survives or subsequently re-activates, is not well understood. Open blisters can be contagious, causing chickenpox in those who have never had it before but will not trigger shingles. In the absence of oosing blisters, there's no risk of spreading the virus.

Pain is not limited to the area covered by blisters. Itching and burning sensations may be felt on one half the body even before blisters are visible or when blisters cover a relatively small area. Avoid scratching or touching open sores. Hands that come in contact with them should be washed immediately to keep from spreading the virus to other parts of the body. You want to minimize the chance of it migrating to other peopole or to your own face and eyes.

Are You Too Young For Shingles?

Treatment aims to limit the severity of pain, shorten the duration of a shingles episode, and reduce complications. Any combination of analgesics, antivirals, steroids, opioids and lotions may be prescribed. Though pain can be severe, overuse of pain relievers may damage digestive organs like the liver or kidneys. An antiviral is most effective in limiting shingles progression if taken early. Natural remedies include vitamin C, zinc, baking soda compresses and calamine lotion. This does not constitute a recommendation to avoid physicians. Scaring is likely to be evident after the scabs heal. This might be treated with coco butter, aloe vera or other natural skin lightening/healing treatments.

Advantages of Probiotics

It is a good practice to ingest probiotics for several days after completing a course of antibiotics. Antibiotics generally kill good along with the bad bacteria. Yogurt can supply lactobacillus and may be fortified with a few other friendly bacteria. Miso, sauerkraut, Kombucha and Kefer are fermented products offering various probiotics. However, our digestive tract is estimated to thrive with 100 trillion bacteria. A good refrigerated probiotic supplement is generally more useful.

By means of a media blitz, the CDC and the vaccine manufacturer promoted shingles vaccinations a year or two ago and promotion continues in some areas to a lesser degree. Zostavax® (Merik & Co. zoster vaccine) has been used in the United States since 2006. The vaccine is currently recommended for adults 50 to 59. Interestingly, the vaccine decreases the chance of shingles by about half in those between the ages of 50 and 80 with a significant drop at 60. People in their 30s and 40s have been affected by shingles. About half of all cases occur in people under the age of 60. So it cannot be considered as a disease only affecting elderly. During their lifetime 30% of Americans will develop herpes zoster, which translates into an estimated 1 million cases each year in this country.

What can be done after the three- to six-week ordeal has passed? A vaccination is still advised and may be administered at an appropriate time determined by the patient and treating physician. Although some people will develop shingles despite vaccination, the vaccine may reduce the severity and duration of it.

Tags: dermatology, gastroenterology, immunization, internist, probiotic