Herpes Zoster or Shingles is a painful rash that develops in those who have been affected by chicken pox in their childhood. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). When this virus affects our body, it first causes chicken pox. Then the virus becomes dormant and it stays in the body. It may “wake up” after a few years and cause herpes zoster. According to study, it is seen more commonly among individuals aged above 50 years, those with immunocompromised status, and those on immunosuppressant drugs.
Herpes zoster appears as a rash of blisters on one side of the body, usually in areas that are served by a single nerve fiber from the spinal cord. It is estimated that hospitals in India get about 1 million cases each year. About 90% of the population has had chicken pox at an earlier age, and about a third of those will develop herpes zoster too in older age.
Herpes zoster can be very painful and can result in post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). PHN affects the nerve fibers that cause pain to last even after the rash and blisters have disappeared. Older adults and those with low immunity are more prone to develop shingles. Older adults also suffer more from PHN. PHN can last for months, or sometimes, even years. Coming in contact with a person having shingles, if you haven’t had chicken pox is likely to cause herpes zoster to you, too. Shingles are relatively less contagious. If a person who has already had chicken pox comes in contact with a person having herpes zoster, he won’t be affected because the virus is already dormant in his system.
The most effective way to prevent the occurrence of herpes zoster is vaccination. PHN is a very difficult and debilitating condition. It is best if the inactive virus is not allowed to recur. This can be achieved by vaccination.
Vaccination in Elderly Patients
As we age, the likelihood of the occurrence of herpes zoster (and thus, PHN) increases. Older adults above the age of 55 should be considered for vaccination. The older population is most vulnerable to the VZV and vaccination will help them to at least tolerate treatment. PHN is a very painful condition and a vaccination in time could help prevent it or at least reduce its intensity.
Some major pharma companies have brought vaccines against herpes zoster to India at almost half price of that in the US. Most doctors recommend the vaccine to older adults because developing shingles would increase their ability to get PHN, which is more painful land debilitating, especially in old age.
Vaccination for herpes zoster is highly recommended for older adults. Various studies have shown that the vaccine is effective for 10-12 years. So the ideal age forgetting vaccinated for an older adult is around 60, and then every 10 years after that. The effectiveness of this vaccine when you are undergoing other treatments may vary from person to person.it is better to talk to your physician to know the benefits and side effects, if any, that you will get from the vaccine against herpes zoster. It is always better to take an informed decision regarding health matters.
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