In the news

A better shingles vaccine

Herpes zoster, known as shingles, is a very late complication of chickenpox, a disease that was common when today’s seniors were kids but that is now almost nonexistent because of the chickenpox vaccine. Shingles begins when the chickenpox virus that has lain dormant within nerves of the spinal cord emerges because of an aging or compromised immune system. It begins with an itchy or tingling sensation, usually on one side of the chest or abdomen. Over several hours the pain increases and a rash appears in the form of small blisters that may form an angry red cluster. After about a week the rash begins to disappear but some patients have pain in the area that can last for years. When the rash involves the face it may result in eye damage, even loss of vision.

If an antiviral drug is taken during the first twenty-four hours the attack may be halted but vaccines are now available that can prevent the disease or at least modify it considerably. The first of these was released in 2006. Although it prevented the disease in only a little more than fifty percent of patients it did make the disease milder in most recipients.  A new vaccine, Shingrix, was approved in October 2017. It is almost twice as effective as the older vaccine but it requires two doses, two to six months apart. Side effects such as pain, redness and swelling at the injection site may occur and some persons experience headache, fatigue and generalized muscle pain. These short-lived and generally mild symptoms must be counterbalanced against the risk of severe, long-lasting pain and occasional blindness that occur with shingles. It’s estimated that about one out of three people over the age of sixty will develop shingles; for those over the age of eighty-five the risk is more than fifty percent.

Persons over the age of sixty should be vaccinated even if they received the earlier vaccine and even if they have had shingles in the past. The new vaccine, in addition to being ninety percent effective, provides protection for at least nine years.

Some pharmacies expect to start receiving the new vaccine in December but it will probably not be available until January or February in most areas.  Most private insurance plans cover the cost of the vaccine and so does Medicare Part D. Some plans may require payment by the patient.

Only about thirty percent of eligible persons received the old vaccine. Shingles is a debilitating illness that no one should endure, especially in the golden years.

The Osteoporosis Cocktail – bottoms up!

Calcium is important for strong bones and the prevention of osteoporosis but it’s only a start. Important bone-building nutrients include protein, magnesium, boron, omega-3 fats, vitamins A, C, K and D as well as trace minerals such as copper, manganese, zinc and others.

The good news is that almost all these nutrients are present in a diet that includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables and fish. The bad news is that only four percent (!) of Americans get the recommended amount of all these nutrients every single day AND also get a moderate amount of bone-building exercise at least four times a week. That’s why  a daily multivitamin/multimineral is good insurance, especially for older persons.

Osteoporosis is not inevitable just because we get older but it seems that way because it’s so common. It simply doesn’t happen even among the oldest modern-day hunter-gatherers.



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