<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Understanding the Pain of Shingles – Let’s Nail This Down Together
Western Pennsylvania Guide to Good Health

Understanding the Pain of Shingles – Let’s Nail This Down Together
In depth look at the Truths and Myths, moreover How to Protect Yourself.

By Edward L. Christofano, R.Ph.
President/CEO of Hayden's Pharmacy in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania

It was once described to me by a patient, “the pain of shingles is radiated by wearing clothing or the feeling of air blowing over one’s raw, sensitive skin.”   It is a very painful and debilitating condition that affects a patient’s daily life where routine functions of combing your hair or bathing becomes an excruciatingly painful moment. There are an estimated one million cases of shingles each year in the United States; 1 out of 3 people will develop a case of shingles during their lifetime.  Let’s nail down the facts and myths about shingles together!

“What is Shingles?  How do I get this horrific disease?”

FACT: Shingles are caused by a virus known as the varicella zoster virus.  This is the exact same virus that causes chickenpox, so individuals that have had chickenpox already have this virus in their bodies.  After an individual has chickenpox , the varicella zoster virus remains dormant (or asleep) in the body typically at the nerve endings to muscles and skin.  These vesicles of the virus resides until a stimulus provokes the “sleeping” virus.  

MYTH: Individuals that have never had chickenpox can’t get Shingles.  This is a MYTH!  A patient that has never had chickenpox can still contract the virus and develop chickenpox and/or shingles at any time since it is the same varicella zoster virus.

“How does this happen? Where does this come from inside my body?”

There is much speculation of what causes the “sleeping” nasty and painful vesicles of the varicella zoster virus to awaken and travel to the skin surface for an eruption of painful sores.  Some healthcare experts believe that added stressful life situations such as: the death of a loved one, divorce, job termination, or major health episode such as heart attack, stroke, and grave health conditions are all reasons to place the body under a stressful condition causing these vesicles to awaken.  In all honesty, these are possible causes but have not clinically been proven.   As an immunizing pharmacist, I have personally seen shingles cases as young as 21 years old up to the age of 70+; there are no limitations to what age group this virus will attack.  Most commonly, we see shingles in patients over the age of 50.

FACT: At any possible moment in one’s adult life the “sleeping” virus can awaken and travel the nerve ending surfacing at the skin with a rash or watery blisters.  A tingling feeling or painful sensation will occur usually as the vesicles of the virus make its way to the surface of the skin. These blisters will erupt and cause painful skin patch areas that are similar to raw bare skin.

MYTH: One can get shingles from another individual - is ABSOLUTELY FALSE!   One must remember, this is a live and active virus.  One can spread the varicella zoster virus to individuals that have never had chickenpox before or individuals that have not been vaccinated for shingles.   If the shingles sores are weeping or open raw, these are considered active and contagious shingles that can be spread easily to others.  Individuals that are highly susceptible to the contracting shingles from an active person would be pregnant women, individuals with low immune systems, newborns that have newly forming immune systems, and elderly patients when weakened or compromised immune systems.

The truth of the matter is - Shingles are considered contagious up to the point that the sores are crusting over or also known as “drying” or “scabbing.”  Once they have started the drying process, shingles are considered returning to the dormant
(sleeping) state.

“This is so painful . . . I never want to experience this again . . .  will I?”

FACT: Shingles do have the known ability to return and show their pain again.  The awakening of the dormant (sleeping) vesicles of the varicella zoster virus will travel again and again to the surface of the skin and start the entire painful process over.  Typically, this is in the same location each time, however, the outbreak area size gets larger and widens.  The pain is also intensified and causes more discomfort than the previous episode.

MYTH: Shingles will only show up on the body’s torso – is again absolutely false!  Where there is a nerve ending in the body connected to a muscle, to a body organ like an eye, ear, face muscle, finger, etc….  a shingle outbreak can occur.  In my career, I have had patients with shingles in their eye altering their vision temporarily during the active episode.  We hope that once the episode subsides, the eye vision returns as normal; however, this is not always the case. There could be possible damage done to any organ for which the virus attacks. 

“Tell me how do I stop this from happening to me?  Can I prevent this?”

When introduced into the market in 2007, the Zostavax vaccine was designed to help build patient’s immunity to the shingles virus and prevent patients from having any outbreaks of shingles.  According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the effectiveness of the Zostavax vaccine has greatly reduced the outbreak of shingles in the general population for Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.

Some patients might have received the original shingles vaccine known as Zostavax.  This was the original course of therapy when it was introduced in the market to prevent shingle outbreaks.

After 11 years since the introduction of Zostavax vaccine, it is now being HIGHLY RECOMMENDED that patients receive a booster vaccine for the shingles virus.  This shingles booster vaccine is known as SHINGRIX. 

SHINGRIX is designed to serve as a booster vaccine for all patients that have received the Zostavax vaccine within the last 10 years.  It works in conjunction with the vaccine to provided additional adequate coverage and protection against the development of shingles.

This vaccine is a TWO SHOT series, typically six months apart.

“How expensive is it?  Does my insurance cover it?  Where can I get the vaccine?”

The SHINGRIX immunization is typically covered by insurance for those patients over 65 and on a Medicare Part D program.  Other patients from 21 years and older, should check with their major medical insurance for coverage.   If it is not covered by a patient’s medical insurance, the SHINGRIX vaccine costs about $230 on average.

This immunization is currently available locations and is often administered in the clinic rooms at immunizing pharmacy facilities.  Patients are able to obtain this immunization by prescription from the primary physician at specific immunization pharmacy settings. 

We, at Hayden’s Pharmacy, are strongly urging patients to set up an appointment for the Shingrix Booster Vaccine today, and the second series injection within the next 6 months.  Immunizing pharmacy facilities might require the scheduling of a clinic appointment.  It is best to contact your pharmacy for more specific information.

In closing, it is very important to ensure your body’s protection from developing shingles sooner than later.  Those who have had shingles should absolutely get the vaccine to prevent another painful outbreak.  Remember, no vaccine is 100% foolproof; however, patients should take comfort in doing everything possible to prevent and eliminate this painful experience.

Hayden’s Pharmacy is located in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania with operations in Youngwood, Greensburg, Hayden’s Pharmacy  is located in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania with operations in Youngwood, Greensburg, Shingrix vaccine or questions about shingle, please feel free to contact via email Ed Christofano, R.Ph. at edc@haydenspharmacy.com  or check out the website: www.haydenspharmacy.com.

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