What is shingles?
Shingles (herpes zoster) is a painful skin rash caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. Once you've had chickenpox, the virus remains in your body in a dormant or inactive stage. If the virus becomes active again you may get shingles. Age, increased stress, and problems with the immune system may increase your chances of getting shingles.
The shingles rash usually occurs on one side of the body, in a line along a nerve pathway. The rash begins as a tingling in the area then forms a cluster of small red spots that often blister. The rash can be painful. Shingles rashes can last 2-4 weeks, but in some people the nerve pain can last for months. For most people, the pain associated with the rash lessens as it heals. Other symptoms of shingles can include fever, headache, chills and upset stomach. In some people, severe complications include pneumonia, blindness, hearing problems, brain inflammation, and even death.
You cannot catch shingles from another person with shingles; however a person who has never had chicken pox or been vaccinated for chicken pox could get chicken pox from someone with shingles.
Shingles is far more common in people 50 years of age and older. At least 1 million people a year in the United States get shingles.
What is the shingles vaccine?
The shingles vaccine has been proven to reduce the risk of shingles by 50%. The shingles vaccine can also reduce pain in people who still get shingles after being vaccinated.
Who should get the shingles vaccine?
A single dose of the shingles vaccine is FDA approved for adults 50 years of age and older.
Who should not get the shingles vaccine?
You should not get the shingles vaccine if you:
- Have a moderate or severe illness like a cold or sinus or lung infection
- Are allergic to any of its ingredients
- Are allergic to gelatin or neomycin
- Have a weakened immune system (for example, an immune deficiency, leukemia, lymphoma, or HIV/AIDS)
- Take high doses of steroids by injection or by mouth
- Are pregnant or plan to get pregnant
What are the side effects of the shingles vaccine?
- Soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help ease pain associated with any of the above.
Severe problems (rare) may include serious allergic reactions, with symptoms including:
- Difficulty breathing
- Pale skin
- Fast heartbeat
It is extremely rare for this vaccine to cause serious harm or death. If the person getting the vaccine has a serious reaction, call the doctor or seek immediate medical attention.
The shingles vaccine is available at:
Healthcare Clinic for patients aged 50+.1
Walgreens Pharmacy. Ages vary by state.
Walk in or schedule an appointment at the location nearest you.
If you believe you have a medical emergency, please call 911.
Call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at 800-232-4636 or visit the CDC website, at cdc.gov/vaccines, for more vaccine information.
Atkinson W, Hamborsky J, McIntyre L, Wolfe S, eds. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. 10th ed. Washington, DC: Public Health Foundation, 2007.
Vaccine Information Statement: Shingles Vaccine (What You Need to Know). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). October 6, 2009. www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/vis/downloads/vis-shingles.pdf. Accessed April 2013.
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