Should You Get a Shingles Vaccination? - Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare

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Published on June 16, 2014

Should You Get a Shingles Vaccination?

Getting vaccinated against shingles is the best way to reduce the risk of contracting the painful condition, but it’s not advised for everyone.

Dr. Michael Schneider, internal medicine physician with Wheaton Franciscan Medical Group in Brookfield, says he sees a few patients every year with shingles, and he recommends that patients over 50 consider getting the vaccine even if they have had shingles before.

“Because the vaccine is a live virus, there are some patients who are immune-compromised who may need to avoid it, but most people can benefit because it reduces the risk of getting shingles by 50 percent,” he says. 

Symptoms

Shingles occurs most often in people older than 50 and brings on early symptoms of mild to severe burning or shooting pain on one side of the body or face. Rashes or blisters emerge after that, and pain from shingles can continue for weeks, months or even years.

“Shingles is caused by the same virus responsible for chicken pox and can remain dormant in the body for years before being reactivated,” Dr. Schneider says.

When the varicella zoster virus is reactivated, it's called herpes zoster or shingles.

An outbreak of the virus can last for several weeks. People with shingles develop a blistering rash usually in a band on one side of the body. Most often, the rash is on the chest or back. People at particularly high risk for developing shingles include those who've had chicken pox and those with cancer, autoimmune disorders, or chronic lung or kidney disease. Aside from a blistering rash, people with shingles may also experience fatigue, headache, tingling, itching, and burning pain.

Treatment

Shingles is treated with antiviral medication which helps to slow the virus and speed recovery. Since shingles can be very painful, prescription pain medication may also be helpful.

If you are diagnosed with shingles, you are contagious as long as you have blisters and ulcers. Since it can be spread from person to person it is important to cover your rash and wash your hands frequently. It also is important to avoid people who have not received the chicken pox vaccine, pregnant women and anyone with a weak immune system.

Complications

About 10 percent of patients with shingles develop a painful nerve condition known as post herpetic neuralgia, which can last for up to a year. Dr. Schneider says the vaccine also reduces the risk for that condition even if the vaccinated patient gets shingles. 

Learn more about shingles and the shingles vaccine in our Health Library.

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Should You Get a Shingles Vaccination?