Chances are, you’ve heard about shingles and the vaccine used to prevent it. In the United States, approximately one in three people will develop shingles during their lifetime, so it’s important to know about this disease.
Shingles (herpes zoster) causes a painful, blistering skin rash along with symptoms that can include fever, chills, headache and stomach upset. The rash appears only on one side of the body, usually around the waistline or face. Pain, itching and tingling symptoms appear before the rash occurs. Even after it goes away, shingles can cause long-term nerve pain that can last for months or even years.
If you had chickenpox, you are at risk of getting shingles
Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox in children. Even after all chickenpox symptoms go away, the virus lays dormant in the body and can become reactivated in some people, causing shingles. The risk of this disease increases with age, and those who have compromised immune systems (such as cancer patients) are at a higher risk.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that anyone 60 years of age or older should get the shingles vaccine, regardless of whether they recall having had chickenpox or not. (Studies show that more than 99% of Americans age 40 and older have had chickenpox, even if they don’t remember getting the disease.)
Keep in mind that the vaccine, called Zostavax®, is not always effective. However, it is the only way to reduce the risk of developing shingles and can cut your risk approximately in half. In addition, those who are inoculated are also more likely to have a milder case of the disease. The most common side effect of the shingles vaccine is temporary redness, tenderness and pain at the site, as well as itching and swelling. Even if you have had shingles, you can still receive the shingles vaccine to help prevent future occurrences of the disease.
The shingles vaccine is covered by Medicare Part D (which provides prescription drug coverage for those 65 and older). Check with your individual insurance plan to make sure you are covered before receiving the shingles vaccine.