Expert Health Articles

Shingles Vaccine: What You Need to Know

Dr. Frank A. CosianoDr. Frank A. Cosiano

Findlay Family Practice

Shingles, also called herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash that often appears with blisters. The rash typically occurs on one side of the face or body and may last two to four weeks. Beyond the rash, other symptoms accompanying the condition may include fever, headache, chills or an upset stomach.

Those who experience shingles may also have pain which can be quite severe. For about one in five people, this severe pain continues even after the rash clears. This is called post herpetic neuralgia.

Shingles is caused by the Varicella Zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. This virus stays in your body after being exposed to chickenpox, or after getting the chickenpox vaccine, and can re-appear many years later to cause shingles. Only someone who has gotten a case of chickenpox or gotten the chickenpox vaccine can get shingles.

Shingles is most common in people over the age of 50 and those who have weakened immune systems from diseases such as cancer or drugs such as steroids or chemotherapy. At least 1 million people in the United States get shingles each year.

There is a vaccine available to help prevent shingles. Licensed in 2006, in clinical trials this vaccine prevented shingles in about half of people age 60 and older. It was also found to help reduce the pain associated with shingles. The vaccine is indicated for adults age 60 and older, but may be given to adults age 50 and older based on physician and patient preference.

Risk associated with getting the shingles vaccine is very low. Most reactions to the vaccine are limited to redness, soreness, swelling or itching at the site of injection, or sometimes headache. The potential for the vaccine to cause serious harm is rare.

Check with your family physician to see if the shingles vaccine is right for you.