Shingles shots spike here as a result of the 'La Russa effect'
Consumers are accustomed to seeing signs offering flu shots in front of chain drugstores. But they seldom see signs advertising vaccines against shingles. As recently as last week, one was posted at the Walgreens store in Collinsville near Highway 157. The ad must have worked its magic. An employee says the store usually stocks 50 to 100 doses and ran out last week.
Some might call it the "La Russa effect," referring to the recent news that Cardinals manager Tony La Russa had suffered an outbreak of the painful disease in the spring.
But even before La Russa's case was made public, a growing number of people were beginning to take steps to protect themselves against shingles, says Dr. Edwin Anderson, an infectious disease researcher and physician at SLUCare.
Unlike a case of the flu, he says, "You can get shingles anytime. It's not a seasonal thing. It occurs in people who had chickenpox in an earlier time in their lives. Chickenpox is a latent virus. It lives in our bodies and is somehow reactivated."
According to PubMed Health, a website produced by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, "the first symptom is usually one-sided pain, tingling or burning. The pain and burning may be severe and is usually present before any rash appears. Red patches on the skin, followed by small blisters, form in most people."
Anderson says the vaccine is recommended for adults over age 60, and "it's expensive." The Walgreens store in Clayton sells it for $219.99 a pop. Regular Medicare does not cover the vaccine, but that price is discounted for consumers with Medicare's Part D supplemental drug insurance.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, no serious problems have been identified with shingles vaccine. The CDC adds that mild problems that may occur include redness or soreness at the vaccination site and headaches (for about one person in 70).
A shingles shot is one of four vaccinations that Anderson recommends for adults. The others three include influenza, pneumoccal (for pneumonia) and Tdap, which stands for a combination of tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.
He says the elderly benefit from these because age and some chronic illnesses affect the body's immune system. In addition, he says people on certain medications to treat illnesses, such as arthiritis, have an increased risk of developing shingles.
"There's a range of vaccines that adults can get -- hepatitis A and B, for example. But the ones I picked out are ones I think of specifically for people getting a little age on them."
Contact Beacon staff writer Robert Joiner. Funding for the Beacon's health reporting is provided in part by the Missouri Foundation for Health, a philanthropic organization that aims to improve the health of the people in the communities it serves.