Experts say young people are at risk of shingles

Doctors urging Americans to get shingles vaccine

Published On: Dec 10 2012 11:23:53 PM EST   Updated On: Dec 11 2012 12:28:30 AM EST
Shingles 12-10-12 Jim
ORLANDO, Fla. -

It's a touchy topic for a lot of people to talk about.

But you may have noticed new commercials on TV, getting the word out about shingles -- a painful, blistery rash that can last for weeks.

And if you think the virus only goes after people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, doctors say you should think again.

But now, those same doctors also say that a big change to the way the shingles vaccine is given could leave you better protected.

"It felt like either I had a pinched nerve or that just someone was constantly stabbing me," says Caroline Radaj, a college student who recently came down with a severe case of shingles in her 20s.

"Nothing was helping, and this was going on for about a week and it was excruciating pain," says Radaj.

If you're surprised to hear about someone so young getting the virus, experts say it's common.

"We see shingles at all ages. Anybody that's had chicken pox can get shingles," says Dr. Jan Parrillo, who's been a family medicine physician in Orlando for more than two decades.

He says that shingles is basically a second outbreak of the chicken pox, later in life.

As you get older, and your immune system gets weaker, your risk of the virus goes up.

But, it can also be triggers by stress, and trying to balance too many responsibilities every day. Those reasons could help explain new numbers from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.

That agency reports that, of the one million people expected to have shingles in the coming year, about half of them will be in their 30s and 40s.

"Family crisis, job crisis, health crisis, any of those things can help to bring it on," says Dr. Parrillo. "There's increased stress in our country right now. The way that everybody is working hard, making a living, trying to juggle family, job."

So what's the best way to protect yourself?

If you're under the age of 50 -- eat right, reduce stress, and exercise. If you're over 50, Dr. Parillo says you should get vaccinated now.

"It definitely can help reduce the risk of people acquiring shingles," says Dr. Parrillo.

And it's easier than ever to get that shot. You may have noticed new signs at your pharmacy, reminding you to get your shingles vaccine, along with your annual flu shot.

Under a new measure in Florida, pharmacists can now give you the shingles vaccine, as well as your doctor.

You only need to get it once in your life, but, it's only approved for patients who are 50 and older.

"The closer people get it to age 50, the more effective the vaccine is," says Dr. Parrillo. "I think that with all types of vaccines, anything that we can do to prevent illness is something that we should be recommending our patients to do."

The shingles shot, Zostavax, costs around $200. It's covered by some health insurance plans, but not Medicare.

Dr. Parrillo says that's a big deal, and ironic, because the people have Medicare also have the highest risk of getting the virus.