Shingles, a painful and sometimes debilitating condition caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, can strike anyone who has had chickenpox. Fortunately, there is a vaccine to help prevent this condition and reduce its severity if it does occur. This comprehensive guide will provide you with everything you need to know about the shingles vaccine, its benefits, and how it can protect you and your loved ones.
What is Shingles and How Does It Affect You?
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV) – the same virus responsible for chickenpox disease. After recovering from chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in your nerve cells. For reasons not entirely understood, the virus can reactivate later in life, causing shingles.
Shingles usually appears as a painful, blistering rash that typically affects one side of the body, often in a band-like pattern. It can also cause fever, headache, and sensitivity to light. The pain associated with shingles, known as postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), can be severe and long-lasting, even after the rash has cleared. In some cases, complications from shingles occur such as vision loss or neurological problems.
Shingles can spread from a person with an active infection to someone who has not had chickenpox or the vaccine against it. The virus is transmitted through direct contact with the fluid from the shingles blisters, which contains the active virus. This usually happens through direct contact with the rash or blisters, but can also occur through contact with the clothing or bedding of an infected person.
It is important to note that shingles are not spread through the air like the common cold or flu. Once a person has had chickenpox, they are at risk of developing shingles, but not everyone who has had chickenpox will get shingles. Risk factors for shingles include age, weakened immune system, and certain medical conditions.
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, can cause a range of symptoms. Here are some common symptoms of shingles:
Pain, burning, or tingling sensation in one area of the body, often on one side of the torso or face
A rash that develops a few days after the pain starts, usually in the same area
Fluid-filled blisters that break open and form crusts
Itching or numbness in the affected area
Fever, headache, and fatigue
These symptoms can last for several weeks, and some people may experience long-term nerve pain even after the rash clears up.
The Importance of Getting Vaccinated Against Shingles
Getting vaccinated against shingles can help prevent the condition or reduce the severity and duration of the symptoms if you do contract it. Additionally, the vaccine can lower your risk of developing postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), a common and debilitating complication of shingles.
By receiving the shingles vaccination, you not only protect yourself but also help reduce the spread of the virus, contributing to overall public health. Moreover, vaccination can save you from the financial burden and emotional stress associated with the prevention of shingles and its complications.
Understanding the Shingles Vaccine: Zostavax vs. Shingrix
The chickenpox vaccine and shingles vaccine are related because they both protect against the same virus, varicella-zoster virus (VZV). The shingles vaccine, on the other hand, helps in the prevention of shingles by boosting the immune system’s ability to fight the dormant virus. Therefore, getting vaccinated against chickenpox can also indirectly reduce the risk of developing shingles disease later in life.
Two types of shingles vaccines are currently in use: Zostavax and Shingrix. Zostavax, a live vaccine, was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2006. However, Shingrix, a non-live vaccine, has largely replaced Zostavax since its approval in 2017, due to its higher effectiveness and longer-lasting protection.
Shingrix is over 90% effective at preventing shingles and postherpetic neuralgia, while Zostavax has an overall effectiveness of around 51% for protection against shingles and 67% for PHN prevention. Due to these differences in efficacy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends Shingrix as the preferred vaccine for adults aged 50 and older.
Who Should Get the Shingles Vaccine and When?
The CDC recommends that healthy adults aged 50 and older receive the Shingrix vaccine, regardless of whether they’ve had shingles or received the Zostavax vaccine in the past. Shingrix is given in two doses, with the second dose administered 2 to 6 months after the first.
Certain individuals should consult a health professional before getting the shingles vaccine, including:
Pregnant or breastfeeding women
Individuals with a weakened immune system
Those who have recently received other vaccines
Individuals with a history of severe allergic reactions to any component of the vaccine
Your healthcare provider can help determine whether the shingles vaccine is appropriate for you and when you should receive it.
Side Effects and Precautions
Similar to other medicines and immunizations, the shingles vaccine has the potential to elicit side effects. Common side effects of the vaccine include:
Pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site
Muscle or joint pain
Typically, these side effects are mild and tend to resolve on their own within a few days. Although serious side effects are not common, they can occur and may include breathing difficulties or severe allergic reactions. If you experience any severe side effects, contact a health professional immediately.
Before receiving the shingles vaccine, inform your healthcare provider about any allergies, medical conditions, or medications you are taking. This information will help them determine if the vaccine is suitable for you and minimize potential risks.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can I get shingles if I’ve never had chickenpox?
A: It’s rare, but it is possible to develop shingles without a prior chickenpox infection. The varicella-zoster virus can be transmitted through close contact with someone who has an active case of shingles, leading to an initial infection and, potentially, shingles later in life. However, this is uncommon.
Q: Can I get shingles more than once?
A: Yes, it’s possible to get shingles more than once, although it’s less likely for individuals who have received the shingles vaccine. The vaccine can help reduce the risk of recurrence and lessen the severity of symptoms if shingles do reoccur.
Q: How long does the protection from the shingles vaccine last?
A: The protection provided by the Shingrix vaccine is expected to last for at least 9 years, with ongoing studies monitoring its long-term effectiveness. The protection offered by Zostavax typically wanes over time and is less effective after 5 years.
Q: Is the shingles vaccine covered by insurance?
A: In most cases, the shingles vaccine is covered by private insurance plans, Medicare Part D, and Medicaid for individuals aged 50 and older. However, it’s essential to check with your insurance provider to confirm coverage.
Shingles is a painful and potentially debilitating condition, but the shingles vaccine can help protect you and your loved ones. The Shingrix vaccine is highly effective at preventing shingles and its complications, making it an essential part of your preventative healthcare routine. If you’re aged 50 or older, speak with your healthcare provider about getting vaccinated and protecting yourself from the discomfort and potential complications of shingles.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Shingles (Herpes Zoster): Symptoms. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/symptoms.html
- Mayo Clinic. (2021). Shingles. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/shingles/symptoms-causes/syc-20353054