Pain prevention for one miserable virus: shingles

Q: Is there anything new for preventing shingles? — JoAnn, via email

A: There is some good news about shingles, the three-alarm fire of pain syndromes. A vaccine that lowers your risk of developing the blistery rash has just been approved for people ages 50-59. Until this spring, the vaccine (Zostavax) was approved only for those 60 and older.

Getting shingles (aka herpes zoster infection) is like an Internal Revenue Service audit: No one wants to go through it, but an amazing number of people do, and sometimes it leaves you with a lot of pain. With shingles, if you’ve had chicken pox, the odds are about one in three that you’ll eventually get shingles (unless you get the shot). Why? Chicken pox is caused by the varicella zoster virus, which then lies dormant in your nerve cells, often for decades, until an immune system glitch wakes it up.

It’s one miserable virus when it gets woken from a sound sleep. It usually starts with an itchy, tingly, painful patch of skin that erupts into a rash, usually on just one side of your body. Prevention is your goal, but if you get shingles despite being vaccinated, seek skilled care fast. It can be treated with antiviral drugs (acyclovir, valacyclovir) and painkillers.

Our advice: Get the shot if you’re 50 or older; both of us have. It reduces your chance of shingles by 70 percent if you’re 50-59. The only reasons not to get it: if you’re allergic to gelatin or neomycin, or if your immune system is weak (say, from getting cancer treatments or taking steroids). While the vaccine isn’t 100 percent effective, if you do get shingles, you’ll likely get a much milder case and much lower risk of and less severe post-infection pain.

If you’ve had shingles once, the vaccine may help prevent it making a return visit.

Q: I lost 70 pounds four years ago and have kept the weight off, due in part to my daily walks. I do
5 to 6 miles every day at a fast 3.7 mph to 4 mph pace. Would walking farther be even better? Or is 5 miles pretty good? — Gabriele, Bensalem, Pa.

A: Pretty good? It’s terrific! You’re walking 10,000 steps a day, not counting how many more you take doing ordinary stuff (probably another 3,000 to 5,000 steps). And “just” doing 10,000 steps means you’re about 80 percent as good as you can get fitnesswise. Way to go! The rewards: a string of great health benefits, from more good HDL cholesterol and less danger of heart disease and diabetes to better moods and — as you know — burning calories.

There is a “dose-response relationship” between exercise and health: Generally, the more you do up to 6,400 kilocalories per week, which is about what you are doing, the healthier you get. (See the RealAge Workout on for more info.) For example, exercising less than 30 minutes a day most days of the week knocks your heart disease risk down 10 percent. But exercising at least 30 minutes a day most days kicks it down 20 percent.

However, you’re way ahead of this! The key suggestion we’d make isn’t to walk farther, it’s to add some strength training. Just 10 minutes, three days a week, will make your whole body even healthier.

The YOU Docs, Mehmet Oz and Mike Roizen, are authors of “YOU: On a Diet.” Want more? See “The Dr. Oz Show” on TV. To submit questions, go to

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