At more than P5,000, Zostavax, the only herpes zoster vaccine currently available, is indeed rather expensive, but is it worth its price? I think this is a question which you yourself should answer, but I’ll help you decide by telling you what you need to know about the disease and its vaccine.
Herpes zoster or shingles (“kulebra,” in Filipino) is a peculiar disease. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), the same microorganism that causes chickenpox, but its manifestations are very different from the latter. Also, only people who previously had a natural infection with chickenpox or had been immunized with the chickenpox vaccine can develop the disease.
Primary infection with VZV results in chickenpox, which generally resolves spontaneously, but the virus does not perish, it simply hides in nervous tissues where it stays dormant for a long time. Presumably, this is also what the virus does when given in attenuated form as a vaccine. Years or decades later, the virus may break out and give rise, not to chickenpox, but to herpes zoster. Exactly how VZV remains latent, subsequently re-activate, and cause another disease is not understood.
Shingles can occur in young people, but a person’s risk for the disease and its complications increases with age. Statistics show that one out of every three people 60 years old or older will get shingles. Of these, one out of six will experience PHN.
Most people have only one episode of herpes zoster in their lifetime. Second and even third episodes, however, are possible.
Shingles is a painful ailment
Shingles is characterized by painful skin blisters or rashes that usually develop in a limited area on one side of the body, extremities, or face. The skin lesions are typically preceded by one to two days of pain over the involved skin area. The pain persists and often intensifies after the skin lesions appear.
The virus also affects the nerves that supply the area of the skin where the lesions are located. Thus, if the skin lesions are around the anal or bladder area, the patient may experience bladder and bowel problems. Likewise, it is not unusual for the patient to experience diminished sensation on the affected skin area or paralysis of the muscles that are supplied by the involved nerve. Also, lesions around the eye may cause impairment of vision.
The signs and symptoms of shingles generally subside within two to four weeks, but some people experience residual nerve pain, which can be very severe and debilitating, for months or years, a condition called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). Rarely, the sensory loss, paralysis, and visual problems become permanent, too.
Shingles may have other long term complications
South Korean researchers who recently examined a database of 519,880 patients have noted another possible long-term health risk of shingles. They found out that people who had shingles had an overall 41 percent higher risk of cardiovascular events, such as heart attack or stroke, when compared to an age-matched control group that did not develop shingles. The risk of stroke was 35 percent higher and heart attack 59 percent higher.
The management of herpes zoster is difficult and expensive
There is no cure for herpes zoster. A variety of analgesics, to relieve the pain, are the main drugs prescribed by physicians. There are several antiviral agents—acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir—that can reduce the pain and shorten the duration of herpes zoster, but they are effective only if given early in the disease. For PHN, anti-depressants such as amitriptyline, anticonvulsants like gabapentin, and opioids such as codeine are used, but results are inconsistent. Overall, the treatment of herpes shingles and its complications is decidedly more expensive than the vaccine.
Does the herpes zoster vaccine offer full protection?
Zostavax, the herpes zoster vaccine, which is recommended for people aged 60 years and older and administered as a single shot, is not 100 percent effective. It merely reduces the risk of developing shingles by only 51 percent and PHN by 67 percent. Also, its efficacy wanes within the first five years after vaccination, and protection beyond five years is uncertain.
The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) will again celebrate the annual National Science and Technology Week (NSTW) on 11 to 15 July 2017 at the World Trade Center Metro Manila, with the theme “Science for the People.”
Under the Proclamation No. 19, the third week of July was declared as the National Science and Technology Week, authorizing the DOST agencies to undertake commemorative ceremonies and activities providing focus on the contribution of S&T to national development.
With the subtheme "Conquering Diseases, Promoting Health," the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD) will lead the health cluster, with the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) and the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI).
“For this year’s celebration, we want to show that our supported technologies are being used from womb to tomb. NSTW will serve as a good venue for other government agencies and private sectors to support and create similar initiatives improving the lives of the citizens through S&T,” Dr. Montoya said.
Expected activities in the health group include fora, games, raffle, massage, nutrition counseling, cooking demonstration, and weeklong interactive exhibit.
Among the programs and technologies to be featured include Drug Discovery and Development Program, Rxbox, OL Trap, Genomics, Pinggang Pinoy, Polyvinyl Pyrrolidone (PVP) Carrrageenan Hydrogel Dressing, Reliefvent, eHATID, and Axis Knee System.
Accelerated R&D Program for Capacity Building of Research and Development Institutionsand Industrial Competitiveness
a)Niche Centers in the Regions for R&D (NICER) Program. The program will capacitate HEIs in the Regions, through an institutional grant for R&D activities that will make significant improvement in regional research and S&T infrastructure. Through NICER, HEIs will be able to integrate regional development needs with R&D and local resources.
b)R&D Leadership (RDLead) Program. The program will engage experts with strong leadership, management and innovative policy-making proficiency to be in charge of strengthening the research capabilities of the HEIs or RDIs. The RDLead experts will lead in establishing new and upgrading existing R&D Centers under the NICER Program, or upgrading of existing RDIs.
c)Collaborative Research and Development to Leverage Philippine Economy (CRADLE) Program. The program will help create a synergistic relationship between the academe as producer of knowledge and manpower, and the industry as the entity which translates technologies to real world applications to generate new opportunities for Filipinos in the form of new industries, enterprises, jobs and solutions to pressing community and national problems. Under the CRADLE Program, the private sector industry will identify the problem; and the HEI or RDI will undertake the research and development, with funding from DOST.
d)Business Innovation through S&T (BIST) for Industry Program. The program facilitates the acquisition of foreign technologies by Filipino companies for immediate incorporation into their R&D activities. The BIST program will provide partial funding to private sectors to enhance their technological capacity to undertake R&D through purchase of high-tech equipment, technology licensing, and acquisition of patent rights.
NICER, RDLead and CRADLE are for HEIs and RDIs; while CRADLE and BIST are for private industry companies.