According to the CDC, adults 50 years and older should get two doses of the shingles vaccine (recombinant zoster vaccine) as a preventative measure against shingles and any complications that may arise from the disease. Get your shingles vaccine here at Susan A. Baker, MD, at the Los Angeles-based office in California. Read on to learn more about the shingles vaccine.

What Are Shingles?

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. It causes painful rashes or blisters that often appear in one area of your body. The virus remains dormant in your nervous system for years after chickenpox is over before reactivating as shingles.

What Is the Shingles Vaccine (Shingrix)?

The shingles vaccine, also known as Shingix, is a 2-doze vaccine made of a virus component and is administered as an injection into the muscle for the prevention and protection against shingles and post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles. That is because the varicella-zoster virus lives silently in your nervous system. 

The virus can reactivate later in life if your immune system is weakened. Your risk of getting shingles goes up as you get older. In the United States,1 in 3 people will get shingles in their lifetime. The two doses of shingrix are 90% effective in preventing shingles and PHN, the most common complication of shingles. After the vaccination, immunity will stay strong for the first seven years.

What Are the Symptoms of Shingles?

The first symptoms of shingles are usually pain and burning. Pain is typically on one side of your body and along a particular area called the dermatome. Depending on the skin tone, a red, dark brown, or purplish rash appears. Other early symptoms of shingles include:

  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Stomach upset
  • Sensitivity to light

Other symptoms that appear after the initial symptoms include:

  • An itching, tingling, or burning feeling in an area of the skin.
  • Raised rashes in a small area of the skin.
  • Redness in the affected area.
  • Fluid-filled blisters that break easily
  • Mild to severe pain in the affected area of the skin.

Rare and severe complications of shingles include:

  • Eye damage can occur if you have a rash or blister too close to the eye. 
  • Loss of hearing or intense pain in one ear, dizziness or loss of taste on your tongue.
  • Bacterial infection from the open blisters.

Who Is at Risk for Shingles?

Shingles can occur in anyone who has had chickenpox. Certain other factors may put you at risk of developing shingles, and these include:

  • Getting over the age of 50
  • Having a weakened immune system from conditions such as HIV or cancer.
  • Taking medications that weaken your immune system, such as medications given after an organ transplant or steroids.
  • Illness
  • Stress

How Are Shingles Diagnosed?

Shingles can be diagnosed by the rash and blisters usually appearing on one side of your body. They may also be diagnosed in a laboratory using scrapping or the fluid from the blisters.

Shingles have no cure; Symptoms are treated using drugs to ease discomfort and pain. Treatment for PHN includes lotions, creams such as capsaicin and lidocaine, and therapies like nerve blocks or steroid injections near the exit nerves in the spine. You cannot get shingles from someone with shingles, but you get chickenpox through direct skin-to-skin contact with the fluids oozing out of the blisters. 

Who Should Get Shingrix?

Adults 50 years and older should get two doses of Shingrix, spaced two to six months. Younger adults with a weakened immune system because of disease or therapy should also get two doses of Shingrix spaced over one to two months. Other reasons to get Shingrix to include:

  • You have had shingles: If you have had shingles in the past, you should get the shingles vaccine to help prevent getting the disease again. It would be best if you waited until the shingles rash is gone before getting the vaccine
  • You are not sure if you ever had chickenpox: It would be best to get the shingles vaccine whether or not you remember having chickenpox because the same virus causes them both.
  • Received the old shingles vaccine (Zostavax): If you were vaccinated with Zostavax, you should get vaccinated with the new shingles vaccine, shingrix.

Who Should Not Be Vaccinated?

Some people shouldn’t get the shingles vaccine. These people include those:

  • That have you ever had a severe allergy to this vaccine or any ingredients in this vaccine.
  • Who are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Who currently has shingles
  • Who are ill. It would be best to wait until your illness has passed before receiving the shingles vaccine.
  • Who has ever tested negative for immunity to the varicella-zoster virus. (You should get the chickenpox vaccine instead) 

Are There Any Possible Side Effects of the Shingles Vaccine?

Side effects are usually mild and may include pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site. Other people may have headaches, itching, nausea, stomach pain, muscle pain, and fatigue. Severe reactions are rare.

Contact the team at Susan A. Baker M.D. today or schedule an appointment online for more information about the shingles vaccine.