Yes, I developed shingles. I’ve been battling this nasty little virus for two weeks and I’m still not completely healed.
Did I get the new-generation vaccination, which is recommended for anyone over 50?
Funny you should ask. Several months ago, the pharmacy I visited was out of the vaccination, so I put my name on a waiting list. I came off that list when I was in the Midwest and I forgot to sign up for the shot when I returned home.
Then on a Saturday, two weeks ago, my back started to itch on one side. My head hurt, and I felt so tired, I started drinking cup after cup of coffee to help me function. I later learned that early symptoms of shingles are fever, chills and headache, a tingling in or under your skin, and an upset stomach.
Then I noticed a rash developing on my back on the right side. My husband and my daughter have had shingles, so I feared the worst. I made an appointment with my local GP on Monday and it was confirmed: shingles.
Antiviral drugs to combat shingles can help you heal faster and cut your risk of complications. They’re most effective if you take them within three days of the start of a rash, so see your doctor as soon as possible.
In my case, I was prescribed Valtrex, taken for a week. The pills are most effective if you start them within three days of the start of the rash.
I was also given Neurontin for pain. Pain? Yes. Shingles is painful. In my case, it hurt to breathe, and it felt like someone had pummeled the right side of my body. My daughter, when she had it, said it felt like someone was stabbing her.
People are warned that they may experience itching, burning or deep pain. One medical site warns: “For some people, the symptoms of shingles are mild. They might just have some itching. For others, shingles can cause intense pain that can be felt from the gentlest touch or breeze.”
I had trouble lifting my arm – one of the complications of shingles is postherpetic neuralgia. That means that the pain is felt in the area where the rash had been.
“Some people with PHN find it hard to go about their daily activities like dressing, cooking and eating,” according to the National Institute on Aging.
The location of the shingles rash can vary. Though shingles can appear almost anywhere on the body, it most commonly affects the torso and the face (including the eyes, ears and mouth). It is often present in the area of the ribcage or the waist but generally affects only one side of the body (the right or the left), and it usually does not cross over the midline. In my case, it stayed on my right side.
Who gets shingles? Anyone who has had chickenpox may develop it. Once chickenpox runs its course, the virus moves into the nerve tissues near your spinal cord and brain where it “hides away” and stays. Doctors don’t know what wakes the virus up, but it travels along nerve fibers to your skin.
Experts say you are more likely to get shingles if you are 50 or older, under a lot of stress, have had a serious physical injury, and have cancer, HIV or some other disease that lowers a body’s defenses. They also acknowledge that many people who get shingles don’t fit into any of these categories.
Was I contagious? The virus can be transmitted from person to person by direct contact with the fluid from the active blistering rash. It cannot be transmitted by coughing or sneezing and it is not contagious before the blisters appear.
I asked my doctor if I still needed the vaccine, since I now had shingles. “Yes, people can catch shingles more than once,” was the answer.
There are two shingles vaccines, Shingrix and Zostavax. Shingrix is newer and is preferred over Zostavax because it’s considered more than 90 percent effective. Shingrix is also recommended even if you’ve already had the Zostavax shot. The shot is given in two doses, two to six months apart.
I learned that there are an estimate one million new cases a year in the U.S., with almost one out of every three people developing shingles at some point in their lifetime.
I’m thankful that I saw a doctor and received the antiviral early and that the rash stayed on my back and didn’t end up in my face, eyes or genitals.
Trust me on this one – take this seriously and save yourself discomfort and pain. GO GET THE SHINGLES SHOT! As soon as my doctor clears me for getting the shot, I’ll be the first in line.