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preventive health services

Shingles Vaccination

Why is this important?

Almost one out of every three people in the United States will develop shingles, also known as zoster or herpes zoster, in their lifetime. There are an estimated one million cases of shingles each year in this country. Anyone who has recovered from chickenpox may develop shingles; even children can get shingles. However the risk of shingles increases as you get older. About half of all cases occur in men and women 60 years old or older.

Some people have a greater risk of getting shingles. This includes people who have medical conditions that keep their immune systems from working properly, such as certain cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, and human immunodefi- ciency virus (HIV), and receive immunosuppressive drugs, such as steroids and drugs that are given after organ transplantation.

People who develop shingles typically have only one episode in their lifetime. However, a person can have a second or even a third episode.

Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays dormant (inactive) in the body. For reasons that are not fully known, the virus can reactivate years later, causing shingles. Shingles is not caused by the same virus that causes genital herpes, a sexually transmitted disease.

Shingles is a painful rash that develops on one side of the face or body. The rash forms blisters that typically scab over in seven to ten days and clears up within two to four weeks.

Before the rash develops, people often have pain, itching, or tingling in the area where the rash will develop. This may happen anywhere from one to five days before the rash appears.

Most commonly, the rash occurs in a single stripe around either the left or the right side of the body. In other cases, the rash occurs on one side of the face. In rare cases (usually among people with weakened immune systems), the rash may be more widespread and look similar to a chickenpox rash. Shingles can affect the eye and cause loss of vision.

Other symptoms of shingles can include

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Upset stomach

What are the Risks?

Adults have reported pain, redness, and swelling where the shot was given; also mild fever, fatigue, headache, chills, or muscle pain after receiving the shingles (Herpes Zoster) vaccination. Most of these reactions occurred within four days of the vaccination and cleared up.

With any medicine, including vaccines, there is a chance of reactions. These are usually mild and go away on their own, but serious reactions are also possible.

A severe reaction to a vaccination may cause you go into shock. This is very rare, but it has occurred in some patients. The number of individuals needed to receive a shingles shot and eliminate one case of shingles, is approximately 11.

Your doctor or other healthcare professional can advise you on which vaccines you need and why — as well as which vaccines may not be right for you based on certain factors such as allergies to vaccine ingredients or health conditions. If you have a fever, a condition that decreases your body’s ability to fight illness (immune-suppressed), or other long term illness, or expect to become pregnant soon, you should consult your doctor.

How does the zoster vaccine work?

The only way to reduce the risk of developing shingles and the long-term pain from post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) is to get vaccinated. CDC recommends that people aged 60 years and older get one dose of shingles vaccine. Shingles vaccine is available in pharmacies and doctor’s offices. Talk with your healthcare professional if you have questions about shingles vaccine.

Frequently asked questions about the shingles vaccination

How is Shingles treated?
Several antiviral medicines — acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir—are available to treat shingles. These medicines will help shorten the length and severity of the illness. But to be effective, they must be started as soon as possible after the rash appears. Thus, people who have or think they might have shingles should call their health care provider as soon as possible to discuss treatment options.

Analgesics (pain medicine) may help relieve the pain caused by shingles. Wet compresses, calamine lotion, and colloidal oatmeal baths may help relieve some of the itching.

What other vaccines do I need?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all adults get the following vaccines:

  • Annual flu vaccine to protect against seasonal flu
  • Td vaccine every ten years to protect against tetanus
  • Tdap vaccine once instead of Td vaccine to protect against tetanus and diphtheria plus pertussis (whooping cough) and during each pregnancy for women Some additional vaccines you may need (depending on your age, lifestyle, job, health conditions, and other factors such as vaccines you had in the past) include:
    • Hepatitis A
    • Meningococcal
    • Hepatitis B
    • Pneumococcals
    • Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
    • Shingles
    • Chickenpox (varicella), and measles, mumps, and rubella.

Vaccines are an important step in protecting adults against serious, sometimes deadly, diseases. Even if you were vaccinated at a younger age, the protection from some vaccines can wear off or the virus or bacteria that the vaccine protects against changes so your resistance is not as strong. As you get older, you may also be at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases due to your age, job, hob- bies, travel, or health conditions.