Many of us have vivid memories of our childhood encounter with chickenpox. The constant itching, fever, and fatigue left us pouting in our beds when we’d rather have been outside playing with our friends. Sadly, if you thought that your run-in with the pox was over, you may be surprised to know that you might experience it again in your adulthood. Unfortunately, the shingles vaccine that you’ve been told will prevent it may not be helping as expected.
What are Shingles?
Shingles is a contagious, viral infection that causes a painful rash that can appear anywhere on the body. It’s caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you’ve had chickenpox the virus can lie dormant in nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain. Years later, that virus can reactivate as shingles .
The CDC states that almost 1 in 3 Americans will get shingles in their lifetime, with about half of that number experiencing shingles age 60 or older . With such a high likelihood of contracting it, it’s important to understand the signs of shingles, how to prevent it, and how to decrease symptoms if you do happen to get it.
Shingles isn’t a life-threatening condition, but it can be very painful. For most people, shingles will go away on its own in 2-4 weeks and a vaccination is not necessary, but for those who are over 60-years-old, or for those with weaker immune systems complications, may arise from the virus.
Which leads us to wonder – is it safe to take the shingles vaccine?
Shingles Vaccine – Is It Safe?
Getting the shingles vaccination doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get shingles, and it’s only meant to be used as a preventative measure, not as a treatment for someone who already has shingles.
As is common in vaccinations, it works by administering a small amount of the virus into the system, to allow the body to develop antibodies to fight the full force of the virus.
Currently, in the United States, the only FDA approved shingles vaccination is called Zostavax. It has been approved for individuals 50 years of age and older, though it’s recommended for age 60 and up. Since the vaccine only remains in the body for 5 years , scientists believe that the vaccine would not remain present for the years where it is most valuable (age 60 and up).
The vaccine was first licensed in 2006, and it is reported to reduce the risk of shingles by a mere 51%.
Up until October of 2017, Zostavax was the only FDA approved shingles vaccination. But, in October of this year, a new shingles vaccine was approved in Canada, by the name of Shingrix by GSK. It’s the first to use a non-live agent and is believed to be safer for the individual because of it.
Zostavax is surrounded by controversy, with people claiming to have contracted the virus from the vaccine itself.
While it’s impossible to know the exact number of doses that have been administered, more than 36 million doses of Zostavax have been distributed globally.
Shingles Vaccine Responsible for Cases of Shingles
While the issue of the Zostavax causing shingles is a relatively hush-hush topic in the mainstream media, in August 2014 the FDA agreed to list “shingles” on the warning label. A shingles vaccine that causes the exact illness that it’s meant to prevent against.
According to the Merck Zostavax patient information, the following side effects have been reported from the Zostavax vaccination:
-Hives at the injection site
-Rash at the injection site
-Glands near the injection site (that may last a few days to a few weeks)
-Redness, pain, itching, swelling, hard lump, warmth, or bruising where the shot was given
-A headache 
There have been a number of lawsuits against Merck for their failure to alert the public about the side effects of their drug, Zostavax.
Things got even more complicated for Merck when two former virologists, Stephen A. Krahling and Joan A. Wlochowski, filed a lawsuit against the company claiming that the efficiency tests within the company were faked.
The two scientists claimed that Merck knew its measles, mumps, rubella vaccine was less effective than the reported 95% level, and that the senior management was aware of this and oversaw testing that concealed its actual effectiveness. According to Krhaling and Wlochowski, they were threatened with jail time if they were to report it to the FDA.
Natural Ways to Fight the Virus
While it isn’t possible to eliminate a virus if you contract it, there are natural ways to strengthen your immune system to help recover.
Your body is fighting a virus and no matter how many times the office calls, it’s important that you take the time to allow it to heal.
Apply cold, wet compresses to the areas of the rash. You can do this by wetting a clean towel with cold water and setting it over the affected area of the body. This will help to reduce pain and itching.
Colloidal Oatmeal Baths
Colloidal oatmeal has been used for centuries to relieve itch and irritation. The phenols in oatmeal give it anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Add 1-2 cups of oatmeal to a bath of lukewarm water, and soak for 15-20 minutes. Do not use hot water, as this can make the itching worse.
Apply Calamine Lotion
Calamine lotion, which contains zinc oxide, will help to relieve the itch that you’re experiencing from shingles. After you’ve finished your bath and/or compress, apply calamine lotion to the rash. Reapply as needed for relief from irritation. Calamine lotion won’t heal the shingles rash, but it will increase your comfort level.
Healthy Diet and Nutraceuticals
The food that goes into your body has a huge impact on your overall well-being and the strength of your immune system. Check out this chart by Dr. Axe to see how you can adjust your diet to treat and prevent shingles:
Avoid contact with people who have shingles or chickenpox
Lastly, it is important to note that shingles are contagious, so steering clear of those with it will reduce the risk of you getting it yourself. Since chickenpox is the same virus as shingles, it’s important to stay away from people who have it as much as possible.
Unfortunately, given the odds, shingles are something that a great number of us will have to experience at some point in our lives. It’s better to be prepared in advance with all of the knowledge that you need to make the experience less painful. Whether you choose to receive the vaccine or go the natural route, research your options before investing and keep yourself safe.
SOURCES: Mayo Clinic Staff. Shingles. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/shingles/symptoms-causes/syc-20353054 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, Nov. 29). Shingles. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/features/shingles/index.html US Food and Drug Administration. (2017, Oct. 10). Zostavax. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/BiologicsBloodVaccines/Vaccines/ApprovedProducts/ucm136941.htm Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, Dec. 5). What Everyone Should Know About Shingles. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/shingles/public/index.html Merck & Co. Inc. (2017, Sept.). Patient Information About Zostavax. Retrieved from https://www.merck.com/product/usa/pi_circulars/z/zostavax/zostavax_ppi.pdf Kurtz ES, Wallo W. (2007, Feb.). Colloidal Oatmeal: History, Chemistry and Clinical Properties. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17373175 https://www.biopharmadive.com/news/merck-shinges-vaccine-lawsuits-zostavax/438125/ Vera Sharav. (2016, Mar. 5). Former Merck Scientists Sue Merck Alleging MMR Vaccine Efficiency Fraud. Retrieved from http://ahrp.org/former-merck-scientists-sue-merck-alleging-mmr-vaccine-efficacy-fraud/