Every year, 1 million people in the United States are diagnosed with shingles. This means that over a lifetime, 30% of all Americans can expect to get shingles one or more times. It should come as no surprise that over the last decade, demand for the shingles vaccine has skyrocketed. Now, with the availability of the shingles vaccine, the number of cases is expected to drop over time.
What Are Shingles?
Shingles (or Herpes Zoster) is a painful skin rash that is often accompanied by blisters. It commonly appears on either the left or right side of the body, usually on the torso. Shingles is most common in people who have weakened immune systems, and at least half of all cases occur in people over 50 years old, with most cases occurring in adults over the age of 60. Shingles can last from 2-4 weeks. The rash is very painful and is often compared to the feeling of a second or third-degree burn.
Shingles And Chickenpox
You may have heard of shingles referred to as “adult chickenpox.” This is because the chickenpox and shingles are caused by the same virus. While chickenpox is most common in children under the age of 12, shingles is most common in adults over the age of 60. Having chickenpox in the past does not protect people from shingles. In fact, after recovering from chickenpox, the virus stays dormant in the body and can lead to shingles later on in life.
While the virus is not directly contagious, if a person who has never had chickenpox is in direct physical contact with a shingles rash, they may get chickenpox. This is highly uncommon, but not unheard of.
Shingles And Postherpetic Neuralgia
For most people, the physical discomfort caused by shingles disappears within a couple weeks, along with the visible symptoms. But for some, pain persists long after the rash has cleared. This serious complication of shingles is called postherpetic neuralgia. Postherpetic neuralgia can mean long-term pain and suffering, with severe symptoms lasting longer than 3 months. While shingles is temporary, postherpetic neuralgia can be a life-changing affliction and is often a powerful motivator for older adults to get the shingles vaccine.
The shingles vaccination reduces the occurrence of shingles by 51%, and the risk of postherpetic neuralgia by 67%.
Symptoms Of Shingles
The symptoms of shingles range from mild to severe. The symptoms may include:
- Upset stomach
In very severe cases, shingles can lead to hearing problems, pneumonia, blindness, inflammation of the brain, or death. If you suspect that you may have shingles, contact your physician right away as immediate treatment can reduce the severity and duration of shingles.
What Is The Shingles Vaccine?
The shingles vaccine is a single-injection live vaccine that is typically administered in the upper arm. The vaccine lasts for about 5 years. Like all vaccines, the CDC and FDA closely monitor the shingles vaccine for safety and efficacy. The vaccine cannot protect everyone from getting shingles, but for those that get shingles after being vaccinated, their symptoms are usually reduced in severity and duration due to the benefits of the vaccine.
After the vaccine is administered, it’s safe for a patient to be around children and adults. If a rash occurs at the injection point, it should be covered, and skin-to-rash contact should be avoided.
Who Should Get A Shingles Vaccine?
People over 50 can get the shingles vaccine, although it is not typically recommended until the age of 60, as the risk of shingles increases with age. The ACIP recommends the vaccine for all adults over the age of 60 that meet the vaccination health requirements (see health requirements below), regardless of whether or not the patient has had shingles or chickenpox before. For those who have been diagnosed with shingles in the past, the vaccine can help prevent future occurrences, and can usually be administered as soon as their shingles rash has cleared up.
There is no age limit for the shingles vaccine, however many physicians hesitate to give the vaccine to people over the age of 80 because the efficacy of the vaccine decreases as the recipient gets older. There’s only an 18% success rate of the vaccine for recipients over 80. If you are over 80, talk to your physician about your options.
Who Should Not Get The Shingles Vaccine?
While the shingles vaccination is safe, it may not be appropriate for all individuals. For those who have had a life-threatening allergic reaction to any component of the shingles vaccine including gelatin and the antibiotic neomycin, the shingles vaccine is not recommended. The shingles vaccine is also not recommended for people who have weakened immune systems due to:
- Cancer treatment
- Cancers such as leukemia or lymphoma
The vaccine is not suitable for anyone suffering from a moderate or severe illness, including people with a temperature over 101 degrees Fahrenheit. It is not recommended for women who are or may become pregnant or anyone with any other disease or treatment that weakens the immune system. Make sure to disclose all allergies, current treatments, and any other cause for concern to your physician before getting the shingles vaccine.
Shingles Vaccine Risks
It’s been over a decade since the shingles vaccine has been made available to Americans. Since then, no serious problems have been identified with the vaccine.
Some minor side effects include:
- Itching at the injection site
Severe allergic reactions are highly rare, but may include:
- Swelling of the face and throat
- Trouble breathing
- Rapid heartbeat
- Dizziness and weakness
If you experience any severe reaction, call 911.
If you suspect you have shingles, you should make an appointment with your physician right away. If you are diagnosed with shingles, your physician may prescribe you an antiviral medication to help you manage the pain and shorten the duration.
If you are over the age of 50 and interested in learning more about the shingles vaccine, contact your physician, or a physician at WWMG to talk about your options.