Stopping shingles

Published On: Sep 27 2013 12:31:02 PM CDT

It's a virus just about everyone is carrying around.  "It just stays there and it just basically is asleep for several years," says Dr. Maurice Duggins of the Kansas University School of Medicine.

When it wakes up, the shingles virus brings a red blistery rash and a lot of pain.

"It feels like somebody took a cheese grater to your skin and then poured battery acid on it," says former shingles sufferer Molly Allen.  "If you get shingles it's going to be two of the most miserable weeks of your life."
Anyone who has had chicken pox, which is about 93% of the U.S. population, has the Shingles virus inside them.  The virus goes dormant for years and is usually triggered by a combination of age, stress and a weakening immune system.

70% of shingles cases occur in adults 50 and older.  Usually a rash develops in a band around the stomach or side.  But sometimes shingles can take over the face and get dangerously close to the eyes.

"About a month after I'd originally gotten sick my legs went numb and it turned out that my immune system had overreacted to the virus," says Allen.

She experienced rare and severe complications, including a lesion on her spine that affects her mobility and balance.

In 2006, drug manufacturer Merck developed a vaccine called Zostavax.  It was originally approved only for adults 60 and older.  And that's still the recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control

However, in 2011, the Food and Drug Administration lowered the approval age to 50.  According to Merck, a survey taken in 2010 showed 14.4% of adults over 60 had been vaccinated.

Merck says Zostavax is readily available now, but admits there were supply shortages in the past.  The shot is also expensive.  Without insurance, a dose will cost you nearly $200.  According to Merck, Medicare part D, and most private insurance plans will cover it, but only for patients over 60. 

"That can be cost prohibitive for a lot of patients.  $200 is a lot of money," says Dr. Duggins.

He encourages anyone who is in the at risk age group to talk with their doctor about getting the shingles vaccine.

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