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Shingles vaccine: Should you get it?

October 04, 2018 | UCI Health
senior getting vaccinated against shingles

Anyone who’s had shingles agrees that this rash is best avoided.

If you’ve had chickenpox, the odds are one in three that you’ll get shingles during your lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Every year, about 1 million people get the virus.

The only way to prevent shingles is with a vaccine.

“Vaccination can significantly reduce this risk,” says Dr. Lisa Gibbs, director of the UCI Health SeniorHealth Center. The CDC recommends that anyone over 50 be vaccinated against shingles.

The Zostavax vaccine has long been the method of prevention, but a new, more effective vaccine against shingles is now available: Shingrix.

What causes shingles?

Although shingles resembles chickenpox in many ways – those who contract it suffer from a rash and blisters – they aren’t the same disease. Both, however, are caused by the same virus: varicella zoster.

After a bout with chickenpox, varicella zoster remains in the body, essentially “in hiding” and dormant for years after the chickenpox has healed.

This virus can resurface years later through sensory nerves in the body, leading to a painful rash. These rashes live on nerve pathways called dermatomes, which is why they tend to be localized in specific areas of the body.

For example, if the rash is on the face, it may affect the ocular nerves and even threaten one’s eyesight.

Preventing post-herpetic neuralgia

The best reason for getting vaccinated against shingles is to reduce the chances of post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) and long-lasting chronic pain.

In studies, Shingrix provided longer lasting immunity than Zostavax. The vaccine consists of two injections delivered two to six months apart, says Gibbs.

Zostavax is still available for those over 60 and those who may be unable to have Shingrix.

If patients receive both doses, it can be more than 90 percent effective at preventing shingles and PHN, and stays above 85 percent for at least four years.

Who should get the vaccine?

All healthy adults age 50 and older should get the vaccine. There is no maximum age for receiving it.

You should consider getting Shingrix even if you:

  • Have had shingles
  • Have received the Zostavax vaccine more than eight weeks ago
  • Are not sure if you’ve had chickenpox

The risk of getting shingles increases with age, and the pain associated with the rash can be very severe, says Gibbs.

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