Study shows who most at risk for shingles

April 17, 2009 11:03:24 AM PDT
Doctors have new ways to predict who will get those painful blisters of shingles -- anyone who's had chicken pox. A new Houston study says people whose parent or sibling had them are twice as likely to get shingles.A week ago Linda Odom worried she might go blind in one eye.

"My eye was swollen and running and these things right here were like blisters," said Odom.

It was shingles -- caused by the chicken pox virus. It can hide in a nerve root and reappear decades later in people who had chicken pox as a child.

"My great grandmother lost the vision in her eye because of this stuff," said Odom.

"Anyone who gets pain on one side of their face, chest, arm or leg and then gets blisters on that same side, on one side of the body, it's shingles until proven otherwise," said UT Houston, study co-author Dr. Stephen Tyring.

A shingles vaccine is recommended for people 60 and older. Dr. Tyring is testing it in younger people.

The vaccine has been available for two years but only two percent of the people, who need it, are getting it and that could be a mistake.

"Some people coming in with shingles say they didn't know there was a vaccine against shingles and had they known they would have gotten it," said Dr. Tyring.

Dr. Tyring has two shingles studies underway in Houston and in Clear Lake, where both treatment and the vaccine are free.

"They met me here, Sunday morning," said shingles patient Annette Clark.

Doctors consider a shingles outbreak -- an emergency.

"It should be immediate treatment or else they could have permanent nerve damage," said Dr. Tyring.

"Now my three children are predisposed to have them," said Clark.

Are you going to tell them about the vaccine," we asked.

"Oh yeah I've already lined them up," said Clark.

"I decided to get vaccinated against it because my grandmother had had it, my mother had it my daughter had it," said Linda's mother, Doris Butts.

A week later, Linda's blisters and vision were better.

"I guess the medicine actually does work," said Linda.

The shingles vaccine is $250, but is free for study patients. And medication is free through another study, if you do have an outbreak.

To reach Tyring's Center for Clinical Studies in Houston and in Clear Lake, call 281-333-2288 day or night.

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Christi Myers is ABC13's Healthcheck reporter


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