Listen Jon Hallberg on shingles and treatment for the disease
Listen Dr. Hallberg explains more about the symptoms and treatment for shingles
A vaccine for shingles has been heavily advertised in recent weeks, leading many consumers to wonder whether they need protection against the painful disease.
Dr. Jon Hallberg, medical analyst for All Things Considered, spoke to MPR's Tom Crann about shingles and Zostavax, the vaccine.
Once I've had chicken pox, what happens to the virus?
The varicella zoster virus remains in your body after contracting chicken pox.
How is shingles different from chicken pox?
Chicken pox is a generalized eruption of the skin and causes rashes and blisters. The lesions can look like a "dew drop on a rose petal," Hallberg said.
In contrast, shingles usually begins as a painful, burning sensation. A rash and blisters soon develop, often at the spine, and form a "belt-like" distribution across one side of the body.
How often does shingles appear in patients who've had chicken pox?
People who have had chicken pox have at least a one in ten chance of developing shingles. The risk increases with age. "As we get older, our immune system is less capable of fending off things, or in the case of the varicella zoster virus, of keeping it in check," Hallberg said.
What's the medical danger from shingles?
Shingles is a very painful condition and can result in serious complications. Some patients can develop shingles in an eye, which could lead to glaucoma and possibly blindness. Older patients are more likely to experience a burning, searing pain that lingers for months or years.
Who should consider getting this vaccine?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone over the age of 60 get the vaccine.
How effective is it?
Studies show that the vaccine is about 60 percent effective.
Does insurance cover the vaccine?
Many insurance companies have refused to cover the vaccine, which costs about $200. "I think insurance plans are simply thinking that, 'Look, if it's only 60 percent effective, this may not be worth us covering for all of our patients over the age of 60,'" Hallberg said.
In the wake of these ads, are doctors hearing more about shingles from their patients?
Hallberg said he's seen a large increase in the number of patients asking about the vaccine. "It's coming from my patients much more than it's coming from me, in terms of how it enters the conversation," he said. "There's no question that the marketing is working on this particular vaccine."
If you didn't get the vaccine, and you get shingles, what's the treatment?
No medication can cure shingles, but if the symptoms are detected early, medication can reduce the risk of complications and lessen the intensity of the pain associated with the disease.