The shingles virus flares up most often in adults over age 50 and the symptoms can range from a painful itchy rash to permanent nerve pain and vision loss. To prevent pain and possible disability, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control now recommends the new Shingrix vaccine for nearly everyone 50 and older, even those who’ve already had the Zostavax shingles vaccine.
Here’s what you need to know about the new vaccine and what to ask your family doctor or pharmacist about it.
After a childhood bout of chickenpox, the virus can stay in a person’s nerves and spinal cord for decades. In most people, it never flares up again. In about 1/3 of Americans, however, the chickenpox virus comes back as a case of shingles. This can happen at any age, but it’s most likely to occur in people who are 50 or older.
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Shingles usually start as an itching pain on one side of the body or face, followed by a rash of blisters that can last for up to a month. People with shingles can also have chills, a fever, headaches or nausea. In some cases, the virus settles around an eye and causes permanent vision damage. Lasting balance problems, facial paralysis and nerve pain are uncommon but serious complications. To add to the discomfort, some people get shingles more than once.
People who’ve never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine can’t get shingles but they can get chickenpox from someone who has shingles. Because of this risk, the CDC urges people with shingles to cover their rashes and stay away from pregnant women, premature and small babies, and people with weakened immune systems, like people with cancer or HIV.
There are now two different shingles vaccines available in the U.S.
The CDC recommends that adults age 50 or older get the Shingrix vaccine, whether or not they’ve had shingles or the Zostavax vaccine already. The recommendations also state that adults with chronic health problems like diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis should also get the shot, even if they’re on low-dose immunosuppressive therapy.
Shingrix isn’t recommended for everyone, however.
The CDC recommends delaying a vaccination for people who are:
People who’ve had the Zostavax vaccine should wait at least eight weeks before getting the Shingrix vaccine.
Because shingles are painful and can cause long-term harm, it’s a good idea to get vaccinated and talk to your parents about getting vaccinated as well.
Shingrix and Zostavax are available from family doctors and at many pharmacy chains, including Costco, CVS, Walgreens and Walmart.
Some questions to ask the doctor and pharmacist can include:
The shingles vaccine is a simple way to prevent short-term pain and long-term nerve problems in older adults, which means a better quality of life for you and your parents.
Have you had the new shingles vaccine or the virus before? We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.