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Shingles & Chickenpox: What's the Link?

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Controlling the Pain of Shingles

Up to one in five people who get shingles suffer from postherpetic neuralgia, usually defined as zoster-related pain that occurs in the area of the shingles rash even after the rash is gone. It can last for a few weeks, months, or longer. The older you are when you have zoster, the more at risk of developing postherpetic neuralgia.

“A lot of people get shingles and it’s relatively minor or moderate pain, and they get over it in a week. If that were the only risk, I would wonder about the overall usefulness of the vaccine,” DiCarlo said. “But I have to say, if you can reduce getting postherpetic neuralgia by 65-70 percent, it’s worth it. You don’t want to go through that.”

When to Get Vaccinated

The FDA approved the vaccine as a one-time dose for people 50 and over.  As noted, the rate of shingles increases with age. Medicare part D covers the shingles vaccine, but your contribution to the cost may vary. Private insurance plans or Medicaid may not cover payment for the vaccine. You will need to check with your insurance company about coverage.

What if you have never had chickenpox or have already had a case of shingles? You should still get vaccinated because studies show that nearly all adults 40 years and older have had chickenpox whether they remember having it or not. Also, if you’ve already had shingles, the vaccine can help protect against recurrence.

The vaccine is not safe for all people. People who should NOT get the vaccine include:

  • People who have ever had a life-threatening reaction to or are severely allergic to gelatin, neomycin, or any component of the shingles vaccine.
  • People with a weakened immune system from certain medical conditions or treatments.
  • Pregnant women or those who may be pregnant

The most common side effects reported with getting the vaccine include redness, soreness, swelling or itching at the injection site, and headache. Some people may develop a rash at the injection site that looks like chickenpox.

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