My Experience With Shingles

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In December of my senior year of high school, I suddenly began to feel very achey and rundown. Between college applications, finals, and staying up way too late on the phone with friends, I assumed I was just exhausted. Then, winter break started and even with more time to rest, I continued to feel awful. My back, in particular, ached and felt uncomfortable at even the lightest touch, like clothes brushing against it. Then it looked like I had a very small, isolated rash on my back. Some family friends, who are primary care doctors, took a look at my back and said they thought it looked like shingles, but thought it must be something else because typically they only saw shingles in much older patients. Finally, I went to my doctor and she confirmed I had shingles. She suspected that stress and lack of sleep had worn my immune system down, allowing the varicella zoster, or chicken pox, virus I had as a child to flare up again as shingles, or herpes zoster. Because I waited so long to see the doctor, there was little that could be done except use over the counter pain medications. However, by the time I was back at school in January, I felt almost completely recovered. After that, I was certainly more careful about sleeping enough and taking care of myself!

Causes and body parts affected

In order to get shingles, an individual must first contract chicken pox. In my case, my parents deliberately exposed me to chicken pox when I was about four so I could just be done with it. The varicella zoster virus then lies dormant in nerve cells. Usually, reactivation of the virus is prevented by the body's immune system, especially T cells. However, when the immune system is compromised for some reason varicella zoster can recur as shingles...

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...l, p. 44-46).

There is a shingles vaccine, which is a concentrated version of the chicken pox vaccine. However, it will not prevent shingles in all of the people who receive it. In a three year trial, vaccinated patients were 50% less likely to get shingles than the placebo group and almost 2/3 less likely to experience PHN. The Center for Disease Control recommends the vaccine for those over 60 (Nalamachu & Morley-Forster, p. 864-865). There are relatively few risks associated with the vaccine for people with normal immune systems making even the incomplete protection offered by the vaccine better than no protection from this painful disease.

Recurrence of shingles is uncommon so I will try to stop worrying that it is coming back every time I feel a little tired and get some back pain. However, it is hard to forget something so painful and uncomfortable!
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