By Morgan Montalvo
Texas doctors are reporting an increase in the number of shingles cases among adult patients, a reminder of the importance of being vaccinated against chickenpox as a child or shingles later on, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
Shingles today is mostly limited to adults, as most children since 1996 have received the varicella-voster vaccine for chickenpox, says Dr. Li-Yu Mitchell, a Tyler family practice physician.
By protecting against chickenpox, Mitchell says, the varicella-voster vaccine’s “double-duty” benefit is the prevention of shingles in most people as adults.
Children typically are vaccinated against chickenpox at ages one and four, Mitchell says, and varicella-voster immunizations have led to a 92-percent reduction in chickenpox, from approximately 4 million cases annually to about 350,000 cases.
In Texas, the chickenpox vaccine is a requirement for enrollment in public schools. Before the vaccine’s introduction, she says, chickenpox proved fatal for about 100 people annually. The death rate from chickenpox is now about 10 victims per year.
“Many of us had chickenpox, and many of us developed the blister-like rash, the fever, the itching and we got over it in about seven to ten days,” Mitchell says. “But for some people that creates a lot of bad disease: serious pneumonias, encephalitis - which is an inflammation of the brain – bloodstream infection, severe dehydration that leads to hospitalization,” she says.
Mitchell says most people over age 40 in the United States did not receive the vaccine, but likely did contract chickenpox as children, meaning about one in three people – one million annually on average - who “caught” chickenpox during childhood will develop shingles as adults.
Shingles symptoms include: overly sensitive, itchy or painful skin; redness, rash, ulcers, or blisters, often in linear distribution; and fatigue. The symptoms can last up to a month.
For some unvaccinated adults the chickenpox virus, which lays dormant in the spine, can reactivate with more serious symptoms.
Along with shingles, Mitchell says, “Some people will have long-term nerve pain that is called post-herpetic neuralgia that is severely debilitating.”
A vaccine known is Shingrix is a commonly administered protection against shingles in adults, she says.
“It’s recommend for people from age 50 or healthy enough to get the vaccine. It’s a two-dose series; you have it at one visit, then another visit two to six months later,” says Mitchell.