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New vaccine can help prevent misery of shingles
Pat Southwick got shingles when she was 57. Now 74, she said it caused the worst pain she's ever experienced.
REBECCA SELL/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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By ELIZABETH KRIETSCH
WHEN Pat Southwick got shingles in 1989, the illness affected the entire left side of her face and neck. Her eye, mouth and ear all suffered. Her throat hurt so badly she could barely manage to eat. When she did, the food she consumed had to be at room temperature because she was too sensitive to hot or cold.
Southwick, then 57, said shingles was more painful than natural childbirth and major health ordeals she's gone through.
"I've had breast cancer and uterine cancer," said Southwick, of Fredericksburg. "And I've never suffered the pain I suffered with shingles."
As many as a million cases of shingles are diagnosed in the U.S. each year, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
But with FDA approval of a shingles vaccine last May, many people will now be able to avoid the pain Southwick experienced.
Zostavax, the first-ever shingles vaccine, is recommended for adults over 60, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In studies, people who were vaccinated developed shingles at half the rate of those who didn't get the vaccine.
"It does seem to reduce the number of people who develop shingles," said Dr. Mercedes Payne, a family physician in Fredericksburg. "And if they do [develop shingles], the symptoms are not as bad."
The same virus that causes chickenpox--Varicella zoster --causes shingles. The virus lies dormant in the system after a person has chickenpox and then can resurface as shingles. Often, it happens to people with compromised immune systems due to illness or stress.
According to Payne, shingles is most common and severe in people over 60. However, people much younger do get the illness.
Alison Sears, 23, is just getting over her experience with shingles, which began as it does for many--with a rash.
Sears' rash was located on the right side of her body and spread from her back, around her side, and onto the front of her body. She says she suffered serious pain for a week and a half, followed by three weeks of lesser pain.
"Even my clothing rubbing against it made it hurt," Sears said.
Although the rash doesn't always appear, Payne said a blistering, itchy rash is common and usually occurs on one side of the body. The rash can be present on the face, neck, arms, or legs, but commonly affects the torso.