Shingles is no fun

I am suffering through my first experience with shingles. No, not the roofing kind. Shingles is a disease characterized by a painful skin rash with blisters that occurs in a localized area. It’s caused by the chickenpox virus. If you’ve had chickenpox, then likely the virus is lying dormant in your nerve cells, where it will come back to haunt you when you’re older.

It’s … unpleasant. And from what information I’ve been able to gather, what I’m currently experiencing is a rather mild case.

According to the Wikipedia article, about one-third of all people will experience at least one attack of shingles in their lifetime. Shingles is more common among older people. If you live to 85 years old, your chance of having at least one attack is about 50%. The article says that fewer than 5% will have more than one attack.

Risk of death from shingles is very low: between 0.28 and 0.69 deaths per million. Combined with the apparently low likelihood of a second attack, some would say that I’m being overly cautious in contacting my doctor to get the vaccine. My response to them is, “tell me that again after your first experience.”

If you’re over 50, talk to your doctor about getting the shot. The vaccine doesn’t guarantee that you won’t have an attack, but studies show that the likelihood is reduced something like 90% over three or four years, and if an attack does occur it will be less severe. Worth repeated trips to the doctor, in my opinion. My “mild case” was quite uncomfortable for a couple of days and it’s going to itch like crazy (like poison ivy) for the next week or so. I’ve known people who’ve had it much worse. Believe me when I tell you that you do not want to experience it.

2 thoughts on “Shingles is no fun

  1. Which vaccine are you referring to here? The chickenpox (varicella) vaccine? Or some shingles-specific vaccine?

    My partner recently got shingles as well; she’s 26 and had chickenpox during her toddler years. Her case was mild, but similar to you she was definitely uncomfortable. The doctor gave her some magic pills and recovery went smoothly – I hope your recovery continues smoothly as well.

    • I was referring to the shingles vaccine, called Shringrix. That reduces (by up to 90%) the likelihood that you will suffer an attack of shingles. There is another shingles vaccine, called Zostavax, that isn’t as effective and might not even be available in the U.S. anymore.

      The chickenpox (varicella) vaccine will reduce the likelihood of contracting chickenpox. It is typically given to children.

      Shingles is not unknown in younger people, but it most commonly affects people over 50.

Comments are closed.