My Shingles Experience

Written by Vince Faust

Last week I was feeling great. I was getting into the gym regularly. I even took a picture after my workout last Monday wearing my Captain America t-shirt. By Wednesday it felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach and punched me in the back. I was in the doctor’s office feeling the worst I had ever felt in my life. By Saturday I called the doctor on call. Now I had a rash and the pain was at a 10. It took my breath away. The on-call doctor prescribed some medication for the rash and told me to go to the doctor if things got worse. They did and I was on my way to the nearest urgent care center. They sent me to the ER. In the next 15 minutes they had me on morphine for the pain. I was at a loss. The ER doctor told me I had shingles. I said, “I don’t have enough symptoms. Then he showed me my back. Then I saw the rash on my stomach, side and back. I saw the red ugly raised bumps. I’m not supposed to get sick. I write about health. And I got the shingles vaccine. What happened?

I got more education on shingles. According to the CDC, the rash occurs in a single stripe around either the left or the right side of the body. In other cases, the rash can develop on one side of your face. Shingles on your face can affect your eyes and cause vision loss. In rare cases in people with weakened immune systems, the rash may be more widespread on the body and look similar to a chickenpox rash. 

Symptoms of shingles can include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Chills 
  • Upset stomach

Many people think that shingles is just a rash, so they wait for it to go away like poison ivy or sunburn. That would be a big mistake. If you think you have shingles, action is needed immediately. Shingles is a neurological emergency. The center of the infection is deep inside your body, within sensory nerve cells close to your spinal cord or brain. In some cases the infection can spread into your spinal cord or brain and can cause myelitis, pneumonia, encephalitis, stroke, spinal cord injury, sepsis and bacterial infections.

I didn’t have any of the symptoms except the stomach pain. Because I got the shingles vaccine I was told I would not get all the symptoms. Shingles is a neurological emergency. I’m glad I didn’t keep self-diagnosing my situation. 

The herpes zoster is a virus in the herpes virus family, which causes chicken pox in children and shingles in adults. The herpes zoster is not sexually transmitted. You cannot get shingles from a person that is infected with shingles. You can get chickenpox from someone who has shingles but only if you have never had chickenpox or never received the chickenpox vaccine. You are contagious with shingles until your last blister has scabbed over which usually occurs in about 10 to 14 days. Anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk for getting shingles. 

You can unintentionally spread the virus to people that have never had chickenpox. If you’re in contact with a person with shingles, you should avoid directly touching their rash. You should avoid touching their clothes, bedding, towels or anything else that might have touched their rash.

Having shingles will boost your immune system and offer some protection against a rapid recurrence. That boost in your immune system can weaken with time, which can make you vulnerable to shingles again. While it is possible to have shingles more than once, but it’s very rare to get it more than twice. It’s not known why the shingles virus is reactivated at a later stage in life but most cases are thought to be caused by having a lowered immune system.

The best way to avoid shingles is to get vaccinated. A vaccine helps your body create a strong defense against shingles. People over 60 that get vaccinated for shingles reduce their risk for developing shingles by 50% and getting persistent pain of PHN by over 60%. The shingle’s vaccine is even more effective with people between 50 and 60. The vaccine reduces their risk by 70%. Vaccines can be a single dose or require more doses. If you don’t receive your second dose within the recommended window after your first dose, you do not need to restart the series. You should receive the second dose as close to this time frame as possible. For the best results it’s important that you complete the vaccine series.

This vaccine can give you some temporary side effects. Most side effects include a sore arm with mild or moderate pain after getting a shingles vaccine. Redness and swelling where you got the shot may also occur. Some people felt tired, had muscle pain, a headache, shivering, fever, stomach pain or nausea. 1 out of 6 people who got a shingles vaccine experienced side effects that prevented them from doing regular activities. Most symptoms go away on their own in about 2 to 3 days. Shingles vaccine side effects were more common in younger people. Shingles vaccines don’t contain thimerosal (a preservative containing mercury).

If you use an over the counter drug for pain that does not do the job in stopping your pain you should ask your doctor for a prescription strength medication. You have to remember that your pain medication should be managed with your doctor.

I would recommend everyone over 60 get the vaccine. I don’t know what I would have done if I had experienced 50% more pain because I had not gotten the shingles’ vaccine.

Before starting your fitness program, consult your physician.

Vince Faust