Each year, 130,000 Canadians are diagnosed with Shingles. By the numbers, that means that over the course of a lifetime, 1 in 3 Canadians will be subjected to the painful blisters. This, according to a 2016 study out of British Columbia.
But here’s the worst news. That same study shows that the rate of shingles in BC went from 3.2 per 1000 in 1997 to 4.5 by 2012. Canadians are getting more and more shingles, which is baffling the mainstream media and health officials, mostly because vaccine rates are up.
Seeing that childhood chickenpox is suggested as the cause of shingles later in adulthood, it would stand to reason that more vaccines would mean less shingles. But that isn’t seemingly the case.
Shingles is a reaction to varicella zoster, or chickenpox. The theory is that although chickenpox symptoms go away, the virus never does. Later in life, when the immune system is weaker, the virus re-emerges.
“Once that rash resolves, the virus, which is called varicella zoster virus, travels up the nerve roots and lives in the nerves around the spine. It lives latently, meaning it’s there and it’s active, but it isn’t causing any problem most of the time.” Said Dr. Shelly McNeil, chair of Immunize Canada and head of the infectious disease division at the Nova Scotia Health Authority.
Shingles will affect one half of the body with sometimes painful blisters that can take weeks to dissipate. Some people report years of follow-up pains.
But why is shingles in Canada increasing?
One theory is that people are getting older. More people means more old people (eventually) and old people tend to get more shingles.
Another theory is the chickenpox vaccine.
“We know that as we immunize children, we have less and less chickenpox in the community,” said McNeil.
So here’s how that breaks down. When you are a child, you get chickenpox (for the sake of example). When you grow up, you have children, they get chickenpox. You are then re-exposed to chickenpox unwittingly. This serves to boost your immune system and staves off shingles. In other words, the natural order of things, sans human intervention, works rather fluidly and intelligently.
The CDC disputes this concept, saying that shingles incidents were rising prior to the introduction of the chickenpox vaccine.
Some people blame immune system suppressants used to treat rheumatoid arthritis or psoriasis in young people as the villain in all of this.
Whatever the case, this is certainly poor PR for the chickenpox vaccine that many already feel isn’t needed.