By JIM HEALY
The first warning might be a burning or tingling on one side of your back, chest or face. The sensation could be severe and you might feel like you’re coming down with the flu. A few days later, a rash may develop where you first felt the discomfort and that rash may blister and become extremely painful.
All the signs described above are classic symptoms of the often agonizing shingles virus – a virus that can present itself on almost any part of the body and create debilitating effects for weeks, months and even years.
“Shingles is a tough virus that can really negatively affect your life,” said Len McCook, who owns McCook’s Pharmacy in Statesboro along with his wife Janie. “But the good news is there is a new vaccine that came out last year that research has shown to be more than 90 percent effective in preventing people from ever getting shingles.”
“Shingrix” was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in October 2017 and became available to the public as a shingles vaccine last year, McCook said.
“Shingrix was in short supply, but we now have enough of the vaccine to meet the demand,” he said. “It really could make a difference in significantly reducing the number of people who come down with shingles.”
Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus – the same virus that causes chickenpox. In fact, except in very rare cases, you can’t get shingles without having chicken pox first, McCook said. After people recover from the chickenpox, the virus stays in your body and goes dormant. Years later, however, it can become active and cause shingles.
“If you are 40 years old or older, the CDC says 99 percent of the population had chickenpox when they were younger, whether they remember it or not,” McCook said. “The CDC recommends everyone age 50 and over get the shingles vaccine.”
Shingrix is taken in two doses separated by two to six months, McCook said. Zostavax, the previously recommended vaccine, was a one-shot dose. The CDC recommends even those who have received a Zostavax shot should get the new drug, as should those who have had shingles.
The CDC estimates that for every 1 million people 60 to 69 years old who receive Shingrix, there will be 87,000 fewer cases of shingles, as well as 10,000 fewer cases of postherpetic neuralgia (severe pain in the location of a previous shingles rash). The vaccine is also projected to lead to 80,000 fewer cases of shingles among people 50 to 59 years old, with 5,000 fewer cases of postherpetic neuralgia.
Since the chickenpox vaccine was introduced in 1995, deaths from chickenpox have diminished by 88 percent in all age groups and by 97 percent in young people 20 and under, according to a study from the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
“You know, with the chickenpox vaccine virtually eradicating the virus for people born after 1995 and now with the new Shingrix shingles vaccine, it’s possible that within a generation we may have only a few cases of chickenpox or shingles per year,” Janie McCook said. “That would be a remarkable achievement.”
Len McCook said the Shingrix series of two vaccine shots is available at McCook’s Pharmacy. He said most private insurance plans will cover the shot – minus the co-pay – and it is covered by Medicare Part D.
“This new shingles vaccine could ease a lot of pain and suffering,” he said. “I urge everyone 50 and over to be vaccinated.”
This article is sponsored by McCook’s Pharmacy, which is located on Highway 80 East, across from Fordham’s Farmhouse restaurant. You can reach McCook’s by calling (912) 764-2223 or their website www.mccookspharmacy.com.