Is the shingles vaccine right for me?

Do you want to avoid a painful rash and long-term nerve pain?  Are you older than 60?

The Zostavax vaccine, which decreases the chance of shingles, has been in short supply (and is expected to be through 2011).  Our office got a shipment this week.  It feels like the Nevada Gold Rush, with many adults vying for vaccine doses.  If I were older than 60, I’d be in line to get it too!

Shingles, also called herpes zoster, is a painful condition.  Most of us have been exposed to chicken pox either by an infection or by the vaccine.  Once exposed, our body holds onto the virus in a dormant stage (like bears hibernate in the winter, so does the varicella virus).  It may “awaken” or reactivate as we get older and/or our immune system weakens.

Pain, burning, or a “bug-crawling-under-the-skin” sensation may occur before the rash erupts.  Herpes zoster is a one-side-of-the-body skin rash.  Post herpetic neuralgia is the dreaded condition we want to avoid.  It is a fancy term meaning after-herpes-nerve-pain. This may occur at the site of the rash for years, even after the rash has resolved. 

The herpes zoster vaccine, “Zostavax,” has been studied extensively.  Immunization decreases the incidence of shingles by 51%.  The vaccine significantly shortens the number of days that those who do get shingles have the pain and discomfort.  The incidence of  post herpetic neuralgia was reduced by 67% in the vaccine group.  It seems to be a win-win-win situation to me.

shingles infection

The vaccine is suggested to be given once after the age of 60 regardless if the patient has had shingles before or not.  The vaccine should not be given to immune suppressed people (HIV, pregnant women, leukemia, certain cancer patients).  We are uncertain how long after the vaccine is given it is effective.  It is the best we have now.

 Hope this helps!

About drlesliegreenberg

I have been practicing as a family physician for over 20 years--as both an educator of physicians and clinician. From infancy to the elderly, I perform obstetrics and general medicine. I love my career and am passionate about my field of knowledge and my patients. Follow me on Facebook at Leslie Md Greenberg Medical Disclaimer The content of this website is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for, professional medical advice. Do not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating any medical or health condition. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider.
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