10/14 UPDATE: check out “Answers to your top 10 shingles questions” for a follow-up to all the questions we’ve received on this topic.
Last week, I got my shingles vaccine.
It’s estimated that nearly 1 in 3 Americans will get shingles in their lifetime. Unfortunately, few people get the shingles vaccine, even though it’s pretty easy to find. In the eight years since the vaccine was offered, fewer than 10% of all eligible patients had received it.
What is shingles?
Shingles is a painful skin rash caused by the zoster virus – the same one that causes chickenpox. Nearly everyone over age 40 has already had chickenpox. After you get chickenpox, the zoster virus lies inactive in certain nerves. Shingles happens when the virus starts up again.
While shingles can happen at any age, it’s more common in people over 50. A person’s risk can also be increased if they have a weaker immune system because of illness or medication. If you haven’t had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine, it’s possible to get the zoster virus through direct contact with the shingles rash. (But it’s more likely you would develop chickenpox, not shingles.)
Pain, tingling, burning, or numbness of the skin is usually the first sign of shingles, followed by a rash a few days later. Caught early enough, oral antiviral medications can shorten the course of the infection.
To treat pain, prescription and over-the-counter pain relievers are usually recommended. About 20% of people continue to have severe pain, called post-herpetic neuralgia, long after the rash clears up.
It can be prevented: zoster vaccine
Introduced in 2006, Zostavax® is the vaccine used to prevent shingles. The Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices recommends a single dose of the zoster vaccine for adults 60 years or older as part of their regular health care. The vaccine can also be given to adults aged 50 to 59. If you’ve already had shingles, getting the shingles vaccine now can help you avoid getting it again. (Check with your health care professional on the timing of a shingles shot if you’ve already had the disease.)
The most common side effects of the shingles shot are headache and redness, soreness, swelling or itching at the shot site. Some people who get the vaccine develop a rash near the shot site that should be covered until it disappears. While it’s good to be careful about the safety of newer medicines, the shingles vaccine has been tested in about 20,000 people and closely studied among an additional 200,000. It’s been proven to be safe and well tolerated.
Medicare Part D coverage
Medicare Part D covers the cost of the shingles vaccine. Check your plan benefits before getting the vaccine, since Medicare Part D rules vary. Your insurance company could also cover some or all of the cost, and some public health departments offer the shot at a reduced price.
Where can I get the vaccine?
Trained Walgreens pharmacists can give a wide range of CDC-recommended immunizations and vaccines, including Zostavax®. Find your local Walgreens using the Store Locator and make time to get your shingles shot.
Be well, stay well ~