Shingles Vaccine: What you Need to Know

Shingles is a very painful, debilitating disease that can cause lifelong consequences such as nerve pain (known as post-herpatic neuralgia, or PHN) and sometimes even blindness. Shingles starts as a blister-like rash, usually on the trunk or face on one side of the body. These blisters usually scab over within 3-5 days, but the rash and pain can last much longer. The shingles vaccine can help prevent this very painful disease. Keep reading to find out the answers to some common questions about the shingles vaccine.

Do I really need to worry about getting shingles?

Yes; shingles is extremely common. Each year in the United States, about 1 million people get shingles. That means that 1 in 3 people will get shingles in their lifetime.

What causes shingles?

The virus that causes shingles is the same virus that gave you chicken pox as a kid. That virus has been in your body ever since you got the chicken pox, but is inactive. Shingles occurs when that virus suddenly wakes up and becomes active again.

Who should get the shingles vaccine?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend that everyone 60 years of age and older get the shingles vaccine, unless they have a life-threatening or severe allergy to the vaccine. Some people may receive the vaccine at a younger age if their doctor thinks it is necessary, but the CDC does not have any recommendations regarding getting the vaccine before 60 years of age.

Some people should not receive the shingles vaccine. This group includes people who have a weakened immune system (such as those undergoing cancer treatment, HIV treatment, or are taking steroid medication) and pregnant women.

What are the side effects of the vaccine?

Side effects of the vaccine are very mild. Some people experience redness, swelling, tenderness, or itching at the injection site (the back of the upper arm) or headache.

I already had shingles... do I still need to get the vaccine?

Yes. Though it is uncommon, you can get shingles more than once.

My spouse has shingles now and I'm not vaccinated... am I at risk?

No more at risk than you normally are. Exposure to shingles cannot give you shingles.

I can't remember if I ever had the chicken pox... should I still get the shingles vaccine?

Yes. Studies show that 99% of people over the age of 40 have had the chicken pox, whether they remember it or not. Doctors recommend that everyone 60 years or older get the vaccine unless they have a contraindication, even if they don't remember having chicken pox.

How well does the shingles vaccine work?

The shingles vaccine reduces your chance of getting shingles by about 51%, and reduces your risk of post-herpatic neuralgia by about 67%. Although the vaccine is not a guarantee that you won't get shingles, it will greatly decrease the length and severity of the disease if you would still happen to get shingles.


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