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Preventing Shingles

  [ 101 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ]
By Kristi Wrightson, ND, MS, RD • • August 28, 2008

Preventing Shingles

Q: My friend’s husband just developed shingles. As someone with Fibromyalgia, I’m terrified of the extra pain. My GP’s office put my name on a list to get a shot to prevent shingles, but it is in backorder. Any suggestions? - Susan

A: Herpes zoster, more commonly known as shingles, is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV) that also causes chickenpox. The initial infection typically causes a chickenpox outbreak in young children, and then the virus may be stored in the body’s cells. Over time, the majority of the virus is eliminated. However, it may remain dormant in the cell bodies of the central nervous system. Herpes zoster can then be reactivated later in life to cause the rash known as shingles.

Later in life the virus can travel from the cell bodies down the nerve axons to cause a viral infection. The infection results in a rash in the skin of the region that the nerve supplies. The rash can be preceded by nonspecific symptoms such as fatigue, headache and malaise. These symptoms will be followed by sensations in the skin that are described as tingling, numbing and extreme pain in the dermatome of the nerve. [With some overlap, each spinal nerve provides sensation to a predictable area of skin, or dermatome.]

Although the rash often subsides in two to five weeks, it may cause residual nerve pain in some people that can last months to years.

Unfortunately, little is known about why or how the virus is reactivated. The vaccination that was developed against shingles has been proven to prevent the incidence of the virus reactivation significantly. The CDC recommends that most people previously infected with VZV and over the age of 60 get the vaccination.

Those who have HIV and some cancers, who are undergoing treatment for cancer, have allergies to gelatin, or have active tuberculosis should not have the vaccination. Talk to your physician to find out if it is the right vaccination for you.

The question about how it can affect those with fibromyalgia is difficult to answer. There is no way to tell how any infection will affect any person. Shingles causes significant pain, irritation or numbness, which can cause extreme fatigue and contribute to the symptoms of any condition. However, if your immune system is not working efficiently, there will be a higher risk of reactivating the virus to cause shingles.

Typically, those who have some illness that compromises the immune system will begin anti-viral therapy immediately after the virus is diagnosed, which can help to decrease the severity of the infection and reduce the risk of nerve pain continuing on chronically.

The best way to reduce the risk of reactivating the virus is:

1. First, be vaccinated against shingles.

2. Next, keep the immune system working at its peak to assist in allowing the body to prevent the infection.

Maintaining a healthy diet, daily exercise, and a good supplement routine will go a long way to help keep the body healthy and shingles free. Vitamins such as A, C, E and zinc as well as antioxidants like those found in green tea are extremely important for maintaining an efficient immune system. In addition, products that contain selenium, whey protein, or acidophilus have been shown to enhance the overall immune system.

- Dr. Kristi Wrightson, ND, MS, RD

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