Most of you have heard of shingles. It is a painful, blistery rash caused by a virus. Did you know that shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox? When you have chicken pox, although the infection seems to go away completely, the virus actually stays in your nerve cells, alive but in an inactive state. Many years later, this exact same virus can become reactivated, probably due to lowered immunity. This reactivated virus travels down the nerve fibers to cause the shingles rash.
The most common serious complication of shingles is called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). This causes severe pain in the area in which the shingles rash was present, lasting long after the rash is gone, sometimes even lasting years.
There has been a vaccine available for shingles since 2006, called Zostavax. Unfortunately, Zostavax only reduced the risk of shingles by 51%, and was only recommended routinely for patients 60 or over.
There is now a new shingles vaccine, called Shingrix. This vaccine is more than 90% effective at preventing shingles, and can also be given at an earlier age. Shingrix is given in 2 doses, separated by 2 to 6 months. Because it is so much more effective, Shingrix is now the preferred vaccine for prevention of shingles. Here’s what you need to know about this vaccine.
Who should get the Shingrix vaccine?
All healthy adults 50 years and older. You’re never too old to get Shingrix.
You should get the Shingrix vaccine even if you…
- Have already had shingles in the past, because it does help prevent future shingles outbreaks.
- Have received Zostavax vaccine in the past, as long as you wait 8 weeks in between.
- Don’t remember having chicken pox, because studies show that 99% of Americans over 40 years old have had chicken pox, even if they don’t remember having it!
- In adults 50 to 69 years old who got two doses, Shingrix was 97% effective in preventing shingles, and 91% effective in preventing post-herpetic neuralgia.
- In adults 70 years and older who got two doses, Shingrix was 91% effective in preventing shingles, and 89% effective in preventing PHN.
Why is the Shingrix vaccine important?
- Your risk for shingles and the painful complication of post-herpetic neuralgia, increases as you get older, so it is important to have strong protection against shingles in your older years.
What are the possible side effects of the Shingrix vaccine?
- Most people will have some soreness in the arm where the vaccine was given, for 2-3 days.
- Some people will have mild redness or swelling where they got the shot, for 2-3 days.
- Fewer people have fatigue, headache, muscle pain, nausea, or low grade fever, for 2-3 days.
If you want to learn more, you can go to https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/shingles/public/shingrix/..
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Dr. Anita Bennett MD – Health Tip