Updated: Aug 23
Shingles, an illness that is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox, causes a very painful rash on the trunk of the body or the face. This happens when the varicella virus that has been lying dormant in the body reactivates itself in a person with a compromised immune system or in the elderly. It can also occur in the child or teen, but rarely does.
This virus can only happen in a person who has already been exposed to the varicella virus that causes chicken pox. The blister rash usually lasts 2 to 4 weeks, but the neuropathic pain can last months to years afterwards.
The FDA approved the first shingles vaccine for adults in the year 2006. This vaccination is known as Zostavax and can be given to people 60 years and older.
The shingles vaccination offers a small dose of an attenuated virus which helps the body to build an immunity against the disease. The vaccine, Zostavax, will not help extinguish the virus if it has already developed but will, instead, prevent it from occurring.
In a person who is 60 years and older the Zostavax shingles vaccination will help to prevent shingles also known as herpes zoster virus. Some theorized that because it would help prevent the disease it may help to ease the symptoms of post-herpetic neuralgia common after shingles but this proved to be false.
Research using this shingles vaccination has shown that although there are side effects, as with any medication or drug, but the chances of any type of serious side effect is low. Some of the minor side effects such as headache, diarrhea, minor rash, or swelling, redness or pain/bruising at the site of the injection.
More serious side effects can include difficulty breathing, chills, fever, skin rash, sore throat, flu-like symptoms or weakness. Any of these side effects should be reported to your physician immediately for possible treatment. Drug interactions are also possible with the Zostavax vaccine so be sure to communicate all medications, both over the counter, prescription and herbal that you may be taking at the time of the vaccination.
However, using the vaccine is contraindicated (not indicated) in women who are pregnant, have compromised immune systems, certain types of cancer or have allergies to gelatin or neomycin.
People who have had the Zostavax vaccine will shed the herpes zoster virus for a short period of time after the injection. It is important to confirm with your physician when you might be safe to be around people who have a compromised immune system or women who are pregnant. If either of these groups contracts the disease from a person who received the vaccination the results can be devastating to the health of the individual or the unborn baby.
Before accepting the shingles vaccination communicate with your physician about any negative effects you may have had with the chicken pox or any past allergic response you had to a vaccination. This vaccination is given once without any need for a booster shot and protects for the remainder of the individual's life.
The Zostavax vaccine is available by prescription and at the physician office only. Although it provides a great way to prevent shingles and the neurological complications that often result the vaccine should be taken only after evaluating the benefits versus the risk and with the knowledge that there must be a period of time that spreading the virus can prove to be fatal, even though you may not feel sick.
Shingles Prevention Advocate: Get Vaccinated Against Shingles
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Shingles Vaccination
Centers for disease Control and prevention: Shingles What you Need to Know
MayoClinic: Shingles: Who Should get the Vaccine?
MedlinePlus: What is a Shingle
American Academy of Family Physicians: Study Finds Shingles Vaccine Effective But Uptake Remains Low
University of Buffalo: Shingles Vaccination is a Must Says UB Microbiologist Who Knows From Experience
PLoS Medicine: Herpes Zoster Vaccine: Effectiveness Against Incident Herpes Zoster and Post-Herpetic Neuralgia in an Older US Population