Sam Bauman: When shingles is bad news for seniors



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If you watch much TV you’ve undoubtedly seen ads about the prevention of the disease called “shingles,” possibly because the symptoms can resemble things on a roof. And if you ever had chicken pox, you’ve got the virus lurking in your body.

Most older adults have suffered from chicken pox and are thus vulnerable to an attack of shingles. When I saw the ads offering a vaccine, I went to my local pharmacy to check on it. I found the vaccine was readily available and I could get the shot “right now.” But first, $200 please.

That sent me to my regular Veteran Agency doctors, who agreed that the vaccine Zostavax would help and offered it. But they also warned that seniors older the 75 often did not benefit from Zostavax. And it could possibly weaken the immune system, prompting an attack.

So I sat out the shot and thus far I have had no symptoms. But the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the shot for most adults 60 and older. I’ve been lucky; two friends both suffered (or still suffer from shingles). One is a woman friend of 75 who is currently living with shingles which broke out six weeks ago. The other is an old ski buddy of 88 who had shingles two years ago but it is cleared of it but knows it could reemerge if his immune system is weakened.

They both described constant pain and agony from shingles with rashes.

Neither took the vaccine before the case. But their vivid tales of pain and discomfort prompted me to look further into shingles.

The chicken pox virus — the varicella-zoster virus — lies inactive in your body until factors such as illness, immunity surprising medications or stress can cause the virus to reactivate. There’s no way to know if the virus is going to reactivate making it a fairly unpredictable disease.

According to the Mayo Clinic Health Letter of January 2016: There are easy steps to avoid the disease or treat it. Healthy immune system will keep the virus inactive.

The virus travels along a branch of nerve fibers that reach the skin, most often the branch a band in the trunk area. It’s often on only one side of the body, with the spine the dividing line. As the virus spreads along the nerve branches symptoms appear:

Pain or discomfort along the nerve branch, usually the first symptom to occur. The pain can be constant or intermittent, feeling like a burning, throbbing or stabbing sensation. Itching is also common to heightened sensitivity of the kin.

Some victims suffer flu-like symptoms such as a headache, fever or fatigue.

The hallmark of shingles is a blistering rash which comes a few days after the pain and discomfort. Blisters usually crust over in a week or 10 days. If one who how blistering shingles can infect others who have never had chicken pox.

The CDC advises those with shingles symptoms to see a doctor quickly. If shingles is diagnosed, antiviral drugs can shorten the course of the disease and reduce the severity of pain if done within 72 hours.

Shingles can effect vision balance and hearing, and bacterial infections can develop at the blisters. Those with weakened immune systems may suffer longer periods of rash and pain.

The vaccine is recommended by the CDC for most adults 60 or older and is even recommended if you had shingles in the past.

I’m not sure about that I should do, get the shot despite what the VA said, or just sit tight and hope.

Most of this information comes from the Mayo Clinic Health Letter of January 2016.

A more positive offering

You can act to make what you eat safer by washing foods to remove pesticides, even organic grown produce. Extra steps: Rinsing produce in water for 15 or 20 seconds while rotating the produce removes most surface pesticide residue. Gently scrubbing with a brush also will aid.

Peeling produce the outer layers of such as lettuce or onion makes sense.

For apples and potatoes peeling removes pesticides but also removes some of the nutrients in the peel.

With organically grown produce not all is 100 percent pesticide free.

Still, eating organically grown reduces exposure to pesticides.

Enjoy the holiday season!

It’s the time of the year when we gather around the wassail bowl and relax. One common tip when indulging in alcohol is to pad the stomach with food to dilute the alcohol. Another is to limit the intake. Common suggestions are one two-ounce drink for women, two for men. That may seem to limit the wassail bowl fun but will make the holidays safer.

Personally, if I’m home for the night I might mix up a second martini if I’m not out of vermouth, which I often am.

Wassail bowl: to assure a good crop of apples next year.

Sam Bauman writes about senior affairs, among other things, for the Nevada Appeal.


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