Shingles is what you get when the chickenpox virus flares back up in your body again. When you get better from chicken pox the virus goes to sleep (dormant) in your nerve roots. For lots of people the virus stays dormant forever, but in times of weakened immune system (from stress/injury/certain medicines/other reasons) the chicken pox virus comes back out and causes shingles (not chicken pox). You can catch the chickenpox but you cannot catch the shingles.
Shingles is a painful skin rash that usually appears in a strip, band, or small area on once side of the face/body. Symptoms include headache, light sensitivity, flu-like feeling (no fever), itching/tingling/pain in infected area, and rash that turns to fluid-filled blisters that crust over. Some people feel dizzy or weak. And some people may have vision changes or loss of vision due to rash around the eye or other more extreme complications.
This was once thought of as something you get when you’re getting up there in age–say, pushing 70–but really, people of a much younger age are coming down with scary cases of shingles. I believe this is because we live much faster-paced, high-stress lives than people once did.
College is a time of high-stress for many people. When you go off to college you’re on your own for often the first time, you’re eating poorly (or I was), staying up too late…I could go on, but you get it.
Meridith was one such unlucky college gal that got shingles–twice. While it’s not very common to have shingles twice (extremely uncommon to have shingles more than twice), some people do get it more than once.
Her first bout of shingles occurred when she was 21 and it lasted about a week. At first she thought the burning, itchy rash on her abdomen was bug bites. But by the time she figured out the rash wasn’t bug bites, it was too late to get any treatment.
The second time Meredith got shingles she was no longer in college, but worse–pregnant. When it came about she had a constant burning, searing pain on her neck and face. She was prescribed lidocaine gel to help with the pain but it definitely wasn’t the fix she had been hoping for.
Meredith became very sick and missed many days of work. There was no rash this time but the pain and burning on the side of her face and neck ended up affecting her ear and her hearing. She describes her hearing in that ear sounding like an echo for several weeks and then gradually the volume coming in decreased down to the point where she could barely hear anything out of that ear. She was devastated. Her hearing loss would be permanent.
Women that get shingles while pregnant rarely have babies born with complications, and thankfully Meridith’s baby was healthy!
Today she has 30% hearing left in that ear, which she says is pretty useless. But she’s thankful she still has hearing left in one ear.
Meredith doesn’t just live with the life-long consequence of shingles, she re-lives it over and over every time someone comes with shingles to the clinic she works at. She sees patients with severe complications all the time, including blindness.
Because of all this she is very passionate about vaccinations. She’s so passionate that she helped to pass California SB 277, even knowing that people doing so were getting death threats and going through hell to do it.
If you have the passion that she has to do something about the vaccination laws, she insists that writing letters to the editor and calling legislators really does make a difference!
Some of her final thoughts after going through all this:
“I suppose just that chicken pox does not seem to be a big deal to a lot of people, but it caused a lot of disability and even death prior to widespread vaccination, I am proof of that! I am so relieved that it is one less thing my kids have to worry about.
My kids are absolutely vaccinated for everything they are able to for their age. I can’t imagine having to look them in the eyes and explain why I didn’t prevent them from becoming blind, deaf, or disabled when I had the chance.” – Meridith
For more about the Chickenpox Vaccine (VZV) click: HERE.
Check out this true story about Chickenpox: Seeing Spots: Julian’s Chickenpox Story