Preventing Shingles

Source: Mayo Clinic, WebMD

What is shingles?

Shingles, or herpes zoster, is a viral infection that presents as a blister-filled rash typically appearing on one side of the body (although it may “wrap” around the torso). The rash associated with shingles is usually extremely painful. Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus which is also responsible for chickenpox. After an individual has chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus lies dormant in nerve tissue near the spinal cord and brain. The virus can reactivate at any time, even decades later. If it reactivates, it travels along nerve fibers to the skin. This reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus is referred to as shingles.

Is there a vaccination for shingles?

Two shingles vaccines are available. They are 90 percent effective for shingles prevention. Getting vaccinated does not guarantee that an individual will not develop shingles; however, it will reduce the severity of the virus and decrease the risk of developing postherpetic neuralgia. Regardless of whether they have had the chickenpox, individuals who are 50 years of age or older should speak with a physician concerning a shingles vaccine.

If an individual has a current outbreak of the shingles virus, the shingles vaccine must be postponed until the rash completely clears. If an individual has experienced an outbreak of the shingles virus, a vaccine can help prevent another outbreak.

One vaccine is an inactive vaccine, and the other is a live vaccine. A physician will determine the proper vaccine option for each individual.

What are the possible side effects of a shingles vaccine?

  • Pain, redness, rash or swelling at the injection site
  • Itchiness or tenderness at the injection site
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Stomach issues

Who should NOT get a shingles vaccine?

  • Individuals with allergies to any of the vaccine ingredients
  • Pregnant or nursing women
  • Women who may become pregnant within four weeks of receiving the vaccine
  • Individuals with weakened immune systems
  • Individuals who currently have the shingles virus
  • Individuals who are not immune to the chickenpox virus (In this case, individuals should ask their health care providers about the chickenpox vaccine.)
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