Are you thinking about getting the shingles vaccine? Maybe you've read about the shingles vaccine in the news, or friends have talked about it. If you're over age 60, the shingles vaccine may help you avoid getting shingles. And if you've had shingles, the shingles vaccine may help prevent a recurrence.
Shingles (herpes zoster) is a painful skin rash, often with blisters that's caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. In people who have had chickenpox, the virus is never fully cleared from the body. Instead, the virus remains dormant in the nerve tissues. When physical or emotional stresses to the body weaken the immune system, the virus reactivates and spreads along the nerve fibers to the particular area of skin supplied by the involved nerve.
Did You Know?
Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will cover preventive care services, including checkups, vaccinations and screening tests, at no cost to you. Learn more.
The first sign of shingles is often burning or tingling pain, or sometimes numbness or itch, in one particular location on only one side of the body. After a few days, the rash develops.
What Does the Shingles Vaccine Do?
The shingles vaccine, Zostavax, contains a weakened chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster virus). The shingles vaccine helps stimulate your immune system to battle disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus, reducing the risk of getting shingles in people ages 60 and older. In scientific studies, the shingles vaccine reduces the risk of developing shingles by about 50%.
Findings show that the shingles vaccine also helps people who go on to develop shingles have shorter periods of nerve pain called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN), which is extremely painful and can last anywhere from 30 days to months or even years after the rash has resolved. The nerve pain associated with shingles can be so severe in some people that it disrupts their lives.
The shingles vaccine helps prevent shingles in the person receiving the immunization. But because the virus that causes shingles is contagious, the shingles vaccine also works to stop the spread of the virus just like childhood immunizations for varicella or measles, mumps, and rubella.
If a person with shingles passes the virus to someone who has never had chickenpox, the newly infected person will develop chickenpox, not shingles.