For many regions, early autumn is season of preparing for the next to arrive, getting ourselves, our homes and our vehicles ready for whatever Old Man Winter has to throw at us. Many older adults will consider getting the flu shot and the pneumonia vaccine and while they are at it, some may also want to think about vaccinating against shingles.
In Ontario, Canada, it was recently announced that seniors between the ages of 65 and 70 (when the vaccine is most effective at preventing the disease) will receive the shingles vaccine free of charge. This investment in prevention is hoped to help older adults avoid this painful and sometimes debilitating condition.
Shingles is a viral infection that usually causes a painful rash. Adults over the age of 70 are most susceptible to complications from this virus that also causes chickenpox. The virus lies dormant in the nerve tissue near the spinal cord and brain following a childhood infection of the chickenpox. It is unknown what exactly reactivates the varicella-zoster virus in later life but it is thought that a reduced immune system in older age may contribute to a flare-up. In some cases pain continues after the rash has subsided and if shingles are present around or in the eye or ear, can cause vision and hearing loss.
If you develop symptoms of shingles including, pain, sensitivity to touch, a red rash and blisters, visit your doctor without delay. Prompt treatment with antiviral drugs can help speed recover and reduce the chance for serious complications. In some cases shingles present without the rash and occasionally the pain is mistaken for heart, lung or kidney problems. Be sure to write down all your symptoms before visiting the doctor.
To learn more about shingles visit the Public Health Agency of Canada website at http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/id-mi/shingles-zona-fs-eng.php .