I remember sitting in an Aveeno bath or at least the equivalent in those days when I got chicken pox. Not only did it itch like crazy but it scared the daylights out of me because it looked so ugly. In fact, there was a girl I went to school with in the second grade who was badly scarred from her bout with chicken pox.
One of the relaxing points about chicken pox when you are a child is that supposedly once you have one episode of it you can’t get it again. A fact about chicken pox that is known today that wasn’t known when I was young was that the virus (vanicella-zoster) that causes chicken pox stays in your body forever.
The reason that people don’t get another case of chicken pox is because they develop improvement in their immune system.
However, often, when a person exceeds 50-years-old they develop a condition called shingles. The virus has changed and is now called Herpes-Zoster.
What is shingles?
Shingles is a painful, itchy rash with fluid-filled blisters. Not surprisingly the rash looks similar to chicken pox since it is a carryover virus of chicken pox. The rash can last from 3-5 weeks. Of concern is that even when the rash disappears, there may be lingering nerve pain that can be so painful that even a breeze can make it hurt. This is called “post-herpetic neuralgia.”
What is of concern is that one out of three older people will have this severe post-herpetic neuralgia.
In addition to the fact that shingles can take away the joy of one’s later years, while people cannot give shingles to other people, they can give chicken pox to a person who has never had it. For a person over age 60 this can be very dangerous.
In evaluating chicken pox and shingles we find that chicken pox is typically, in younger years mostly a nuisance but does leave the virus in the body.
Later in life the virus which has changed, can now create shingles and can also cause post-herpetic neuralgia that can cause terrible pain for a long time. Additionally, a person with shingles can give chicken pox to anyone who has never had it before and it can be very dangerous to an older person.
Is there anything that can be done?
There is a new vaccine available to treat shingles. It is called Zostovax.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends that anyone over 60-years-old get treated with Zostovax.
Of importance however, is that you are in good shape physically particularly your immune system. Further, Zostovax is expensive and may or may not be covered by insurance carriers.
Whether it’s chicken pox or shingles, at older ages it can present a major problem.
“NIH News in Health,” February 2008, “Soothing the Sting of Shingles”
National Institute of Health 1-301-435-7489