Shingles Hits Three 30-Somethings, Leaving Blistering Rash

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For  30-somethings Melissa Lahr, Melissa Moore and Stephanie Kerse, it's been a strange five months.

At separate points, in different places on their bodies, they’ve all developed itchy, blistering rashes.

Stephanie Kerse says hers popped up in her scalp.

"It came down my hairline,” Kerse says. “It went in my eyebrow and it started to come into my eye."

Then, Melissa Moore says, things got ugly   The pain set in---serious pain.

"It's like being on fire, or being stabbed,” Melissa Lahr says.

"I was in some of the most excruciating pain I've ever felt,” says Kerse. “And I've had a kid."

The diagnosis?  All three had shingles, a reactivation of the chickenpox virus, which all three women had as children.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 99% of Americans 40 and older have had chickenpox.

Piedmont Urgent Care by WellStreet's Dr. Nelson Yuen says the chickenpox, or herpes zoster, virus can lie dormant in your spinal nerve roots for decades.

"And, for whatever reason, sometimes, it reactivates and it pops up." Dr. Yuen says.

The CDC says 1 in 3 Americans will develop shingles during their lifetime, but age is a major risk factor.

Half of cases are people 60 or older.   Melissa Moore is 38.  Melissa Lahr, 36.  And her little sister Stephanie is just 32.

"I keep hearing over and over, 'This is an old person's disease',” says Melissa Lahr.  “So how do you have it?'

Dr. Yen says there has been an increase in shingles in younger people, though it’s not entirely understood why.

That’s because while exposure and age are risk factors, so are a weakened immune system and, maybe, being under extreme stress.  Yet, the women say they're healthy, and not really stressed.

There is a shingles vaccine, called Zostavax.  It's FDA-approved for people 50 and older, but CDC doesn't recommend getting it until you reach 60 - which is decades away for these three.

The vaccine is a one-time deal and will only offer protection for about 5 years.  So, you may want to wait until your 60 or older, when you’re at highest risk of shingles and the complications it causes, to get vaccinated.

Antiviral medication helped, but the women says the rash hung around for weeks.

Melissa Lahr is still recovering. And Melissa Moore, left with a scar, wishes she'd gotten help sooner.  

"If I could give advice to anybody, if you've got some weird rash on your trunk areas, or I heard you can get it on your face,” she says. “Go to the doctor.  Like, that day. Immediately."