You get shingles when the virus that may have given you chickenpox when you were young becomes active again. Doctors don’t know why this happens.
When the virus wakes up, it causes itching and tingling feelings in your skin that can last up to 5 days. Then blisters appear on your body or face, often in a strip on one side of your body. You also may have a fever, an upset stomach, headaches, and chills.
The rashes tend to go away within a month, but shingles can lead to long-term nerve damage and pain, especially in people over 50.
About 1 in 3 people will get shingles, or about 1 million people a year. It can happen at any age, but you’re more likely to have it as you get older. That’s why doctors recommend a shingles vaccine for most people over 50.
What vaccines can help prevent shingles?
Doctors started using the first shingles vaccine, called Zostavax, in 2006. It was recommended for people over 60.
It uses a weak form of the chickenpox virus to send your body’s immune system into action to fight the disease. It lowers your chances of getting shingles by about 50% and your odds of long-term nerve damage by about 67%.
In 2017, a second vaccine, known as Shingrix (RZV), was approved. Doctors recommend it for people over 50. It also uses a form of the chickenpox virus, but it cuts your chances of getting shingles by more than 90%.
Zostavax is given in a single shot. With Shingrix, you get two shots between 2 and 6 months apart.
Protection from a shingles vaccine lasts about 5 years.
Should I get one of the vaccines?
Doctors say most healthy people over 50 should get Shingrix -- it’s available at pharmacies as well as doctors’ offices.
You can get Shingrix even if you had the Zostavax vaccine before, as long as it’s been at least 8 weeks since you had it.
You shouldn’t get Shingrix if:
- You know you’ve never had chickenpox and a test shows you’re not immune to it. If that’s the case, you should get the chickenpox vaccine.
- You have an allergy to any of the ingredients in the drug.
- You have shingles.
- You’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
If you’re over 60 and allergic to Shingrix, you can get Zostavax. But if you have a disease or take certain drugs that affect your immune system, or are pregnant, you shouldn’t get that one, either.