Q & A on Shingles Awareness with Alice Lipowicz (not medical advice)
Q: What are the most important things to know about shingles, in your opinion? A: There are seven things I think are important to know. 1. Anyone who has had chicken pox can get shingles. Shingles is the reactivation of the chicken pox virus, which usually stays dormant in your body for many years. The reasons it gets reactivated are not well understood. 2. Shingles presents in variable ways. Sometimes the pain is mild, and other times it is severe. Sometimes it lasts two weeks, and other times the complications can last for years. Some of the most common places to get it are on the back, torso, shoulder, head and/or eye. 3. Shingles is associated in part with aging and/or immune deficiency. Half the cases of shingles in the US each year are in people over age 60, according to the CDC. The other half are in people under age 60. 4. Shingles cases in the United States are increasing over time. The reasons why this is happening are not clear. You can read more about this trend here. 5. There is a shingles vaccine, but it is only about 50% effective in preventing shingles. But if you get shingles after having the vaccine, it is expected to be more mild than if you had not gotten the vaccine. Additional vaccines are said to be going through regulatory review. 6. If a child or adult has never had chicken pox, he or she can be infected with chicken pox by touching the blisters of someone in the active phase of shingles (usually the first two weeks or so). Here is a broader discussion of transmission issues.
7. If you think you are coming down with shingles, try to get the antivirals within 72 hours. The antivirals are most effective in that time frame. But even if you miss that window, it is a good idea to get antivirals.
Q: What are the best treatments for shingles? A: Doctors can give you antiviral medications to help stop the virus from spreading. They also can provide pain medications to reduce the pain. In some cases, there are skin patches and creams that help.
Q: Did you get vaccinated before you got shingles? A: No, I did not get vaccinated. I was not aware of any risk of getting shingles;; nor was I aware that a vaccine was available. I was unaware that I had any risk factors other than aging (I am in my 50s). I exercise daily and watch my diet. And I have good posture!
Q Do you regret not getting vaccinated and not being more aware of the risk of getting shingles? A: YES!! That is partly why I was inspired to write this show: to help people become more aware of the risk and of the vaccine that is available. Update: An FDA panel recently recommended approval of a new shingles vaccine called Shingrix that is produced in the UK. The current vaccine is Zostavax.
Q: In the show, you refer to how the doctors reacted to a patient with shingles. Is it difficult for doctors to diagnose and treat shingles? A: Yes, I think it can be difficult for physicians, especially for the more serious cases. The main problem is that there is limited clinical research on shingles. Many aspects of shingles are not well understood.
Q: Other than seeking help from physicians and the medical community, do you recommend any other source of assistance for people with shingles? A: I belong to a shingles support group online. Some of the people are very emotionally supportive and that has been helpful. In terms of getting real assistance with treating the disease, I am very cautious about taking medical advice from people online.
Q: What is the most frequent question you get about shingles? A: Honestly, one of the most common questions I get is, "What does shingles pain feel like?" It's a good question and difficult to answer. I never had felt that kind of pain before. For me, at its worst, it felt like nails being driven into my head. Other times, it can feel like a bad sunburn.
Q: Did you really lose 15 pounds on the "Shingles DIet"? A: Yes. It was unintentional and unnerving at the time. Since then, I've gained most of it back.