Traditionally, shingles is thought of as an older person’s disease; however, lately, young men and women in North America have also been diagnosed. As CTV recently reported, anyone who has ever had chicken pox can develop shingles. This is due to the natural immunity the body creates after chicken pox wears off, and the virus re-activating as shingles. The signature shingles rash comes out of the nerves, where it then causes a cluster of blisters or a red patch on the skin.
While scientists still do not know why the incidence of shingles in younger people is rising, it could be connected to a weakened immune system, stress, or it may even be connected to the chicken pox vaccine. While seniors still have a higher general risk of shingles, young people should also recognize the symptoms (such as weakness, pain, rashes) so they can be diagnosed early.
Although shingles vaccines are strongly encouraged, they are not actually designed to prevent shingles, but to supposedly prevent postherpetic neuralgia, a complication of shingles in which the areas were the rash was located are in extreme pain for long periods after the rash is gone; in some cases, it can be permanent. Because shingles comes from re-activated chickenpox, those who have previously had chickenpox or been vaccinated for chickenpox are both susceptible to shingles. Still, despite the lack of effectiveness of the chickenpox vaccine, it is now considered standard, though some doctors admit it is difficult to determine the population-level effects of the lack of re-exposure to chickenpox.
Despite the uncertainty around the effects of lack of natural exposure, more shingles vaccines have come out in recent years. Just last year, Health Canada approved a new vaccine called Shingrix, which claims to work over 90 percent of the time. The new vaccine costs an estimated 30 per cent more than the existing shingles vaccine, Zostavax.
What are some of the potential side effects of Zostavax? They include:
· Allergic reactions that may be serious and may include difficulty in breathing or swallowing. If you have an allergic reaction, call your doctor right away.
· Hives at the injection site
· Joint pain
· Muscle pain
· Rash at the injection site
· Swollen glands near the injection site (may last a few days to a few weeks)
Despite doctors’ claims, the side effects of Shingrix are not much better. According to the product website:
SHINGRIX is a vaccine that helps protect adults 50 years of age and older against shingles (herpes zoster). SHINGRIX may not fully protect all people who are vaccinated. SHINGRIX is not for prevention of chickenpox or for the treatment of herpes zoster (HZ) or postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). Very common adverse events (>10% of doses) reported in clinical trials were pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site, headache, stomach and digestive complaints, muscle pain, tiredness, chills, and fever.
It seems ironic that the very illnesses the vaccinesare supposed to protect against are also possible side effects.
The CDC estimates that in the US, one out of three will get shingles during their lifetime. While most will only get it once, it can come back multiple times. Also, though rare, children are also susceptible to shingles.
Prior to the implementation of the chickenpox vaccine in 1995, children acquired natural immunity to chickenpox by age six. While contagious, chickenpox was not considered life-threatening at the time, and was considered a normal part of growing up. As Dr. Mercola says, “By trying to prevent all children from experiencing chickenpox naturally, this policy may have actually created a NEW epidemic—not in children but in adults, especially elderly adults.” He goes on to state that this lack of exposure is actually fueling the rise of shingles. The vaccine immunity is temporary, and not as strong as a naturally built immunity from experience with and exposure to chickenpox. In fact, a Quebec study found that out of 2,000 fourth graders, 63 per cent already had pre-existing chickenpox antibodies. One should also consider the risks inherent with any vaccine; in the case of the chickenpox vaccine, this can include shock, brain inflammation, blood disorders, and more.
Dr. Gary S. Oldman, who was a Research Analyst with the Varicella Active Surveillance Project in Los Angeles County for eight years, estimated that any deaths prevented by chickenpox vaccination would only be offset by deaths from shingles. His prediction seems to be coming true, as cases of adult shingles have risen 90 per cent since the introduction of the chickenpox vaccine. A 2013 review article in the journal Vaccine also corroborates this theory. Their conclusion was as follows:
“Prior to the universal varicella vaccination program, 95% of adults experienced natural chickenpox (usually as pre-school to early elementary school children)—these cases were usually benign. In the prelicensure era, the periodic exogenous boosting that adults received from those shedding VZV resulted in long-term immunity. This high percentage of seropositive individuals and their long-term immunity have been compromised by the universal varicella vaccination of children which provides at best 70–90% protection that is temporary and of unknown duration—shifting chickenpox to a more vulnerable adult population which, as Dr. Jane Seward cautioned in 2007, carries 20 times more risk of death and 10–15 times more risk of hospitalization compared to chickenpox in children. Thus, the proponents for universal varicella vaccination have failed to consider increased HZ-related morbidity as well as the adverse effects of both the varicella and HZ vaccines which have more than offset the limited benefits associated with reductions in varicella disease. The universal varicella (chickenpox) vaccination program now requires a booster vaccine for children and an HZ vaccine to boost protection in adults. However, these are less effective than the natural immunity that existed in communities prior to licensure of the varicella vaccine. Hence, rather than eliminating varicella in children as promised, routine vaccination against varicella has proven extremely costly and has created continual cycles of treatment and disease.”