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shingle bells, shingle bells...

    A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away...

    ... my brother and maternal grandmother were exposed to a chicken pox carrier at the same time; they both presented with symptoms that Christmastime: my brother proceeded to get better over the following few weeks, while my grandmother has been plagued with shingles [or, perhaps "postherpetic neuralgia" is more correct] ever since.

    [Same virus, but different effect on its victim, depending on the victim's age.]

    Two weeks later, the day before my flight back to Malaysia, those pesky spots appeared on *my* body! I took the flight back anyway, and hoped I didn't spread it to anyone on the plane :p

    My bout of chicken pox was very very very mild: nothing on my face; most of the spots were on my torso. But there weren't THAT many spots. Sure, they itched, but I had it easy. So mild, in fact, was my late [i was maybe 16 y.o.] encounter with this childhood disease that I have always wondered if I really did build immunity to it. After all, I wouldn't want to be exposed to the virus when I'm old & grey, and end up getting shingles [or worse, the postherpetic neuralgia like my g'ma!] in my old age...
That's the story, as I knew it.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday on Yahoo!News i saw something about a vaccine for shingles now being recommended for Amrericans over 60 y.o. What I read has turned my assumptions upside down about the behaviour of the varicella zoster virus [and how we got the chicken pox in Switzerland].

According to wikipedia, shingles is caused by REACTIVATION of the virus that had been dormant in the patient, perhaps even for decades. In fact, according to that Yahoo!News article, about 15 percent to 30 percent of people infected with the chicken pox virus develop shingles later in life.


It seems that after we are hit with chicken pox when young, our body eliminates the virus from the system *BUT* the virus *also* hibernates for decades in nerve cells around the spine. Generally, the immune system will supress reactivation of the virus... but in the elderly, this supression might fail because the body's immune system does weaken with age.

And since the reactivated chicken pox manifesting as shingles is as easily transmittable as the regular chicken pox ... and since shingles presents first as pain before the blisters emerge... perhaps it was my g'ma who infected my brother with the chicken pox that fateful xmas?

Not that I'm assigning blame, don't get me wrong! I just have always been curious as to "how it all started"... and since my brother and g'ma {as far as I know} couldn't recall having interacted with a chicken pox person 2 weeks before they got those blisters... and based on the fact one doesn't "catch" shingles per se...

I am now mentally revising the chicken pox tale to reflect the probability that my g'ma was the root cause.

I am also revising my concern about "catching" shingles when older: I should instead be concerned about those dang dormant viruses getting reactivated somehow.. but about the only thing I *can* do to address that is to keep in good health and do what I can to have a strong immune system as I get older.



  1. That's weird because that happened to my daughter's Father. He had chicken pox as a child, then developed Shingles when he was in his late 20's. Every so often, he has a flare up.

    I love wikipedia, because more often than not, it blows my assumptions right out of the water lol.

  2. My fiance's mother has shingles. She was not around anyone who had Pox. He doctor told her it can be caused by stress.

    Now she is on all those crazy drugs and steriods. She is so out of it lately. I hope that never happens to me.

  3. Wow, great... So despite having had the chicken pox so late, I am still not "protected" from shingles.
    Murphy being Murphy, I think I know what to expect a little later on in life. (How's that for some positive, optimistic attitude) ;-)

  4. I've heard that shingles is one of the most painful things a person can go through. Hopefully the vaccine they're talking about will actually work. I know I'll be in line for one when I get older!


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