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Shingles incidence increases risk of stroke within first six months of outbreak

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Most people experience chickenpox when they are young.  Once you’ve recovered from the chickenpox, you might think it has been wiped out of your system but instead, the virus goes undercover and resides in your body for decades.  For reasons that remain unclear to experts, some people experience a resurgence of the virus much later in life.  That resurgence is known as shingles.  Shingles (herpes zoster) develops into a painful rash.   If the rash wasn’t enough, shingles may also cause damage to your vision and a type of nerve damage called postherpetic neuralgia that can exhibit as moderate to severe burning, stabbing or gnawing pain.

Those alone are good reasons to consider getting the shingles vaccine, but a recent British study provides one more.  According to a study out of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the incidence rate of stroke increased during the six months immediately after a case of shingles.

The study, published in this month’s journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, showed that during the four weeks immediately following an outbreak of shingles, individuals had a 63 percent higher rate of stroke than at other times.  That rate decreased to 42 percent higher during weeks five through 12 and 23 percent in weeks 13 through 26.  The risk level drops off to normal rates after that.

If you are 60 or over, the CDC recommends that you get the one-time shingles vaccination even if you have already  had an outbreak of shingles in order to prevent future outbreaks.  Shingles vaccines are available in doctor offices and pharmacies. People who have had serious reactions to gelatin or to any of the compounds of the shingles vaccine should not get the shingles vaccine.  Nor should those with a weakened immune system because of

  • Cancer treatment
  • Cancer affecting the bone marrow or lymphatic system
  • Women who are or might be pregnant
  • Drug treatments that affect the immune system

All Medicare Part D plans cover the shingles vaccination although you may or may not have to pay a copay or pay a portion of the cost or pay in full and get reimbursed.  Medicaid may or may not cover the vaccine.  Medicare Part B does not pay for the Shingles vaccination.  Some other medical plans cover the vaccine for 50 to 59 year olds and most cover the plans for individuals 60 and over.  Ask you insurance plan if they cover it.

Some drug companies provide vaccines to people unable to afford it.  Here’s a CDC article that lists some resources.

Stroke is the number three cause of death in the U.S., behind heart disease and cancer and affects more than 700,000 individuals in the U.S. each year. It’s the leading cause of disability with 10 percent of stroke victims require care in a nursing home or other long-term care facility.  Avoiding a stroke will help you protect your assets, avoid becoming a burden to your children and potentially allow you to continue to live independently at home.  Having a stroke threatens all three items.

Here are related stories:

New stroke risks for women announced

Study links shingles in young adults with higher incidence of stroke

Your health: the younger, the better when it comes to shingles vaccine

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