Vaccines to Prevent Shingles
The only way to reduce the risk of developing shingles (herpes zoster) and the long-term pain that can follow shingles is to get vaccinated. You are at risk of shingles if you have had chickenpox. Shingles is caused by a reactivation of the chickenpox virus (called varicella zoster) in a person’s body.
The vaccine for shingles (Zostavax®) is licensed for use in people 60 years old and older to prevent shingles. The older a person is, the more severe the effects of shingles typically are—all adults 60 years old or older should get the shingles vaccine. The shingles vaccine is not recommended to treat active shingles or post-herpetic neuralgia (pain after the rash is gone) once it develops. Some people who get the shingles vaccine will develop a chickenpox-like rash near the place where they were vaccinated. As a precaution, this rash should be covered until it disappears.
About Shingles What is Shingles (Herpes Zoster)?
The most common complication of shingles is a condition called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). People with PHN have severe pain in the areas where they had the shingles rash, even after the rash clears up. The pain from PHN may be severe and debilitating, but it usually resolves in a few weeks or months in most patients.
Shingles usually starts as a painful rash on one side of the face or body. The rash forms blisters that typically scab over in seven to ten days and clears up within two to four weeks. Before the rash develops, there is often pain, itching, or tingling in the area where the rash will develop. This may happen anywhere from one to five days before the rash appears.
Most commonly, the rash occurs in a single stripe around either the left or the right side of the body. In other cases, the rash occurs on one side of the face. In rare cases (usually among people with weakened immune systems), the rash may be more widespread and look similar to a chickenpox rash. Shingles can affect the eye and cause loss of vision.
Who gets Shingles (Herpes Zoster)? Almost one out of every three people in the United States will develop shingles, also known as zoster or herpes zoster. There are an estimated one million cases each year in this country.
People who have medical conditions that keep their immune systems from working properly, such as certain cancers, including leukemia and lymphoma, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and people who receive immunosuppressive drugs, such as steroids and drugs given after organ transplantation are also at greater risk of getting shingles.