Rx for healthy life, get those vaccines

You’ve heard about the bad effects of inflammation, which infections cause. Your immune system protects your body from foreign invaders.

These invaders can take shape as pollen that triggers your allergies, bacteria in the nail you step on that causes swelling, the food you may be sensitive to that causes hives, but especially viruses that cause shingles, or HPV infections or the flu.

After you get a vaccine, your immune system responds quickly to virus invaders they have been inoculated against and knocks out the invader. No big deal. A little inflammation that you don’t even notice. And one of your blood markers of inflammation that doc’s commonly measure, highly specific C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) hardly budges upward (it may go from 0.7 to 1.1).

Blood tests look for “inflammatory markers” by measuring acute phase proteins in your blood. For example, C-reactive protein (CRP), and sedimentation rate (ESR) are common tests. These demonstrate the presence of inflammation, but don’t reveal the specific problem. Your doc will hunt hard to find the problem if your, for example, hsCRP is above 3.0, because that degree of inflammation increases your risk of heart attacks, stroke, cancer, even brain dysfunction.

But if you get Shingles, or have an active HPV infection, hsCRP may go from that 0.7 to 50 or 70. That’s obviously a lot higher than the 3 that causes concern. That 50 or 70 reflects inflammation in your arteries that can dislodge plaque, causing it to rupture off your arterial wall and resulting in a heart attack or stroke. That’s why I wasn’t surprised to learn that a shingles episode or HPV infection is associated with a major jump in heart attacks or strokes. And with flu, I’ve seen hs-CRP values over 120.

That is why we think substantial data shows that if you receive the flu vaccine every year for 10 years, you reduce your rate of flu, by more than 70 percent, make it milder (this is a…