Sunday, December 10, 2017
Health

Shingles vaccine is pricey, but could be a wise investment

Much as I enjoy keeping up with friends, cat videos and the wisdom of George Takei, I try not to spend too much time on Facebook. Depending on my mood, it can seem like everybody is having more fun than me, takes better pictures and makes superior restaurant choices.

But the other day, I saw a post that spoke to me. A high school friend announced that she shelled out $224 to get a shingles vaccination at her local supermarket. She noted that her health insurance would have covered her treatment had she actually come down with this painful adult consequence of childhood chicken pox, but given that she's much closer to age 50 than 60, the vaccine is not covered.

I responded that I also paid cash ($175 at the Pinellas County health department) for a shingles vaccine last December as a Christmas present to myself.

See what I mean about other people having more fun?

Anyway, Michelle and I got instant validation from Facebook Nation. One man posted about his permanent facial scars from shingles and pain that went on for months. A women wrote of her shingles misery ALL IN CAPITAL LETTERS for emphasis. Another man (Michelle's husband) described the pain this way: "Imagine not being able to stand the feeling of a shirt brushing against your skin!''

Others asked how effective the vaccine is, whether it prevents reoccurrences, whether you'll need a booster shot later if you get it before age 60.

"It's a no-brainer! Get the shot, folks!'' one commenter declared.

I wondered if it really is. So I called Dr. John Toney, an author of the landmark study on the shingles vaccine that came out a year before Zostavax was approved in 2006 by the FDA for most people older than 60. In 2011, approval was extended to ages 50-59, after a study of 22,000 showed it reduced the risk of getting shingles by 70 percent, compared to placebo.

Shingles — a reactivation of the same virus that causes chicken pox — can occur in younger adults, and even children. But most insurance only covers the vaccine after age 60, because that's when the risk escalates.

Toney didn't say I had wasted my money, but he didn't call my decision to get the vaccine at 52 a no-brainer, either. Unlike Facebook, scientists deal in evidence, not anecdotes.

"The big problem is not the rash and the pain. That will go away,'' said Toney, who is director of health care epidemiology at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa, one of the sites where the vaccine was tested.

The real danger is post-herpetic neuralgia, or PHN, the phenomenally painful condition that can strike the most unfortunate shingles patients.

"In some people that can be extremely debilitating,'' he said. "Just clothing over an affected area can be intolerable. Just going outside feeling the breeze can be difficult.''

The risk of PHN also shoots up after age 60.

Zostavax isn't foolproof, but it certainly improves your odds. In studies involving nearly 40,000 older adults (including 1,200 Floridians), Zostavax reduced the risk of getting shingles by about half, and the risk of PHN by better than 60 percent.

Though the vaccine has been tested in the 50-plus set and shown to be safe and effective, the evidence isn't quite as compelling since shingles isn't as common at that age, said Toney, who also is a professor at the USF Morsani College of Medicine.

"I'm still not uncomfortable saying you get the biggest bang for your buck at 60. If you're interested at 50, fine, discuss it with your provider.''

But I didn't come away from our conversation feeling like I'd wasted my $175. I have more than that invested in shoes that hurt too much to wear.

Plus, as Toney said, "it's a whole lot cheaper to treat people when they don't get a disease than when they do.

"We've actually eradicated one disease (smallpox), not through antibiotics but through vaccine. And we're getting closer on polio. Vaccines are not perfect, but the risk/benefit ratio is absolutely one-sided.''

Whether or not you choose to get the shingles vaccine, Toney has this advice: At the first sign of trouble, like a tingly rash on your torso, get to the doctor for antiviral medication ASAP.

Not every rash is shingles, but if yours is, "the most important thing is to be seen within 72 hours,'' he said.

That's exactly what Toney did a few years ago at age 56 when he noticed what felt like a sunburn on his side.

"I got started on antivirals and it was gone in a day,'' the expert said of his own shingles experience. "I've never had another problem.''

But now that he is 60, he said, "I'm going to get the vaccine.''

Comments
A boy shares the pain of being bullied - inspiring thousands to show him love

A boy shares the pain of being bullied - inspiring thousands to show him love

While fighting back tears, young Keaton Jones couldn’t stop asking one question: Why?"Just out of curiosity, why do they bully? What’s the point of it?" he asks his mother while in the passenger seat of a parked car. "Why do you find joy in taking in...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Legalization of marijuana for adults poses problems for people dealing with teens

Legalization of marijuana for adults poses problems for people dealing with teens

WESTMINSTER, Calif. — After Yarly Raygoza attended the drug prevention program at the Boys & Girls Club here last year, she used what she learned to talk a few friends out of using marijuana.The 14-year-old took the class again this year but worries ...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Millions gained coverage since Obamacare, but many are worse off as premiums soar

Millions gained coverage since Obamacare, but many are worse off as premiums soar

As open enrollment for Affordable Care Act coverage nears the deadline of Dec. 15, and Florida once again leads all states using the federal exchange at healthcare.gov, Heidi and Richard Reiter sit at the kitchen table at their Davie home and struggl...
Published: 12/10/17
A gift of hands: After loss, a man finds hope from healing ones (w/video)

A gift of hands: After loss, a man finds hope from healing ones (w/video)

ST. PETERSBURG — Francisco Piedra fixed his eyes on the man sitting beside him. His name was Richard Brown, and in his hands he held Piedra’s new ones.The prosthetics were black and plastic. Each one took about 20 hours to build from a 3D printer. Pi...
Published: 12/08/17
The solar eclipse burned a crescent wound on a woman’s retina. She wasn’t wearing proper glasses.

The solar eclipse burned a crescent wound on a woman’s retina. She wasn’t wearing proper glasses.

Like so many others, 26-year-old Nia Payne wanted to view of August’s historic solar eclipse but didn’t have a pair of protective glasses. She walked outside on Staten Island and glanced at the sun - 70 percent was covered - for about six seconds bef...
Published: 12/08/17
At St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital, death of a colleague inspires ‘hats with heart’

At St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital, death of a colleague inspires ‘hats with heart’

TAMPA — Brittany Weatherby didn’t know how to crochet when she started her job as a registered nurse at St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital, and she never dreamed of learning how.Maybe her grandma used to, she tried to remember, but Weatherby never really ...
Published: 12/08/17
How kids’ books can introduce a lifetime of fitness

How kids’ books can introduce a lifetime of fitness

When I became a parent last year, it seemed likely my marathon running days were behind me.Running had made me a grittier person. It had given me the very specific self-assurance that comes from calmly enduring 26 miles on foot, a quality that would ...
Published: 12/08/17

Mayo Clinic Q&A: seek attention for mole that bleeds; a look at lung restoration

DON’T WAIT: BLEEDING MOLE SHOULD BE EVALUATED BY A DOCTOR Should I see a health care provider for a mole that bleeds occasionally?Yes. Although it may not be serious, a mole that bleeds is a possible sign of melanoma, a rare but serious skin cancer t...
Published: 12/08/17
Lightened Shepherd’s Pie comforting, quick

Lightened Shepherd’s Pie comforting, quick

When the weather gets cooler, we want to tuck into comfort food in our home. Doing a recipe makeover on a tasty-but-less-than-healthy dish is one of my favorite challenges. Today, I’m taking on a wintertime classic with my Lightened Shepherd’s Pie. T...
Published: 12/08/17
Green Salad With Pumpkin Vinaigrette celebrates holiday season

Green Salad With Pumpkin Vinaigrette celebrates holiday season

By MELISSA D’ARABIANSummer may officially be the season of green salads, but wintertime versions have advantages that make them worth exploring. The cooler weather seasonable greens are hearty and darker green, which makes them nutrient-rich. And, th...
Published: 12/08/17