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Who Should Get the Shingles Shot?

Are you at risk for shingles, and should you get a shot? The latest from SeniorHealth, a division of the National Institutes of Aging:

Shingles is a painful rash that develops on one side of the face or body. The rash forms blisters that typically scab over in 7 to 10 days and clear up within 2 to 4 weeks. 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 is very common. Fifty percent of all Americans will have had shingles by the time they are 80. While shingles occurs in people of all ages, it is most common in 60- to 80-year-olds. In fact, one out of every three people 60 years or older will get shingles.

In May 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a vaccine (Zostavax®) to prevent shingles in people age 60 and older. The vaccine is designed to boost the immune system and protect older adults from getting shingles later on. Even if you have had shingles, you can still get the shingles vaccine to help prevent future occurrences of the disease. There is no maximum age for getting the vaccine, and only a single dose is recommended. In a clinical trial involving thousands of adults 60 years old or older, the vaccine reduced the risk of shingles by about half.

To reduce the risk of shingles, adults 60 years old or older should talk to their healthcare professional about getting a one-time dose of the shingles vaccine. Even if the shingles vaccine doesn’t prevent you from getting shingles, it can still reduce the chance of having long-term pain. If you have had shingles before, you can still get the shingles vaccine to help prevent future occurrences of the disease.

There is no maximum age for getting the vaccine.

Vaccine side effects are usually mild and temporary. In most cases, shingles vaccine causes no serious side effects. Some people experience mild reactions that last up to a few days, such as headache or redness, soreness, swelling, or itching where the shot was given.

The decision on when to get vaccinated should be made with your health care provider. The shingles vaccine is not recommended if you have active shingles or pain that continues after the rash is gone. Although there is no specific time that you must wait after having shingles before receiving the shingles vaccine, you should generally make sure that the shingles rash has disappeared before getting vaccinated.

The shingles vaccine is available in doctors’ offices, pharmacies, workplaces, community health clinics, and health departments.

Most private health insurance plans cover recommended vaccines. Check with your insurance provider for details and for a list of vaccine providers. Medicare Part D plans cover shingles vaccine, but there may be costs to you depending on your specific plan.

You should NOT get the shingles vaccine if you

have an active case of shingles or have pain that continues after the rash is gone

have ever had a life-threatening or severe allergic reaction to gelatin, the antibiotic neomycin, or any other component of the shingles vaccine. Tell your doctor if you have any severe allergies.

have a weakened immune system because of:

— HIV/AIDS or another disease that affects the immune system

— treatment with drugs that affect the immune system, such as steroids

— cancer treatment such as radiation or chemotherapy

— cancer affecting the bone marrow or lymphatic system, such as leukemia or lymphoma.

–  are pregnant or might be pregnant.

Could Vaccines Make Shingles a Rare Disease?

The shingles vaccine is basically a stronger version of the chickenpox vaccine, which became available in 1995. The chickenpox shot prevents chickenpox in 70 to 90 percent of those vaccinated, and 95 percent of the rest have only mild symptoms. Millions of children and adults have already received the chickenpox shot.

Interestingly, the chickenpox vaccine may reduce the shingles problem. Widespread use of the chickenpox vaccine means that fewer people will get chickenpox in the future. And if people do not get chickenpox, they cannot get shingles. Use of the shingles and chickenpox vaccines may one day make shingles a rare disease.

For more on senior health issues, click here to visit the NIH SeniorHealth website.

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