Liza Horvath, Senior Advocate: Consider a shingles vaccine

by Symptom Advice on May 14, 2012

When Bud began to complain to his wife about back pains, Anna assumed it was just the normal aches and pains that come with age. when a painful rash appeared across the left side of Bud’s back, their doctor diagnosed herpes zoster, commonly known as shingles.

Anna and Bud were shocked because most doctors, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, normally recommend a shingles vaccine to those over 60. Bud is 52.

Shingles usually presents as a blister-like rash on one side of the body and can be accompanied by flu-like symptoms, including fever, headache or nausea.

Chickenpox and shingles are caused by similar viruses and, if you had chickenpox as a child, the virus can remain dormant in your body and be awakened by a triggering factor such as physical or emotional stress — manifesting in shingles. certain drugs can also increase your risk for shingles, such as alpha blockers, which are sometimes prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis.

A case of shingles can last three to five weeks and, although it may be extremely painful, most afflicted people will recover without serious complications and will not get shingles again.

Shingles can spread to someone who has not had chickenpox, but that person will not get shingles — they will develop chickenpox. The frightening statistic is that 1 out of every 3 people in the United States will develop shingles, and there are an estimated 1 million cases each year in this country. Risk for the disease increases with age, which is why the vaccine is sometimes recommended by doctors for older patients.

Bud had chickenpox before age 1, which made him more likely to get shingles at a younger age. Anna does not know if she had chickenpox as a child; she is an only child and her parents are deceased.

Anna’s situation gives rise to a good suggestion for all of us, which is to do the best we can to chronicle our illnesses, vaccines and medications, as well as those of our children. More and more hospitals and doctors are now required to keep medical records digitally stored for their patients, but what if the information is not available? What if you die and have not given information about childhood illnesses and family medical history to your children? Your children could find themselves in Anna’s situation — not sure if she should get a shingles vaccine or be otherwise concerned about exposure to the virus.

take a few minutes to document as much information as you can about your medical history, the childhood illnesses of your children and as much history as you can about your parents, grandparents and siblings. Give a copy of the information to your children and place a copy with your other important legal documents — particularly your advance health care directive — then keep the information current. if you become incapacitated, this written history will need to speak for you.

Liza Horvath has over 25 years experience in the estate planning and trust fields and is the manager of the trust department of a local bank. if you have a question, call 915-0272 or email

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