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Over 50? Consider getting vaccinated against shingles


Over 50? Consider getting vaccinated against shingles

If you’re like many people, especially those born before 1980, you’ve probably had chickenpox at some point in your life. The common childhood illness can resurface in adulthood as shingles – a reactivation of the chickenpox virus with potentially serious consequences.
“The virus – varicella zoster virus – doesn’t completely go away but remains dormant in the sensory nerve roots,” says Dr. Hank Lau, a family physician at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Holmestown Road. “In times of physical stress, emotional stress or a combination of both, the virus can reactivate.”
Because of the potentially serious complications associated with shingles, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that healthy adults over 50 get vaccinated against the disease, Dr. Lau says, including people who don’t recall getting chickenpox as a child. More than 99 percent of Americans born during or before 1980 had chickenpox, although some may not remember having the disease.
“Up to age 50, the body typically has the ability to stave off reactivation,” Dr. Lau says. That capacity drops off rapidly. About half of new shingles cases occur among people 60 and older.

The vaccine

The current vaccine, known as Shingrix, uses recombinant DNA to train the immune system to recognize the virus.
People with compromised immune systems should get the shingles vaccine as young as 19, according to the CDC. There is no maximum age to receive the vaccine, which is typically delivered in two doses administered two to six months apart.
Even people who have been vaccinated against chickenpox are at risk of shingles and should get the vaccine, according to the CDC. So, too, should people who have already had shingles, as well as those who previously received a Shingles vaccine known at Zostavax, which is no longer available in the U.S.

Highly effective

About one in three people in the U.S. will develop shingles in their lifetime. The condition causes a painful rash consisting of blisters, known as vesicles, on the skin. Contact with fluid from these blisters can spread the varicella zoster virus to others who have never had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine. Individuals infected will develop chickenpox and could develop shingles later in life.


The most common complication of shingles is long-term nerve pain called postherpetic neuralgia, which affects 10 to 18 percent of people who get shingles, according to the CDC. This pain can be severe and interfere with daily life.
Shingles can also lead to serious complications involving the eye, including blindness, and – very rarely – pneumonia, hearing problems, brain inflammation and death.

Vaccine highly effective

The good news is that vaccination reduces the risk of developing shingles by more than 90 percent among individuals 50 and older with healthy immune systems. If someone develops shingles after receiving of the vaccine, the severity is typically much less, Dr. Lau says.
“The complications are very preventable,” he adds.
The vaccine is safe and prompts the body to create a strong defense against the disease. As a result, recipients are likely to experience temporary symptoms from getting the shot that may affect their ability to do normal daily activities for a few days, according to the CDC.
Most people get a sore arm with mild or moderate pain after getting the vaccine, and some people also experience redness and swelling where they receive the shot. Other symptoms can include fatigue, muscle pain, headache, shivering, fever, stomach pain and nausea. Some people experience side effects that temporarily prevent them from doing regular activities. Symptoms resolve in two to three days and are more common in younger people.
If you have any questions, Dr. Lau says, be sure to speak with your physician or other qualified health care provider.
To find a Shingrix vaccination provider near you, please click here.


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