Over 1 million adults get shingles each year. Shingles is caused by reactivation of the varicella zoster (chicken pox) virus due to some external stress such as an illness, being run down or even just being older with a slower immune system. The varicella virus lives in 99 percent of the adult population, so most of us have it inside us already.
The greatest risk after a shingles outbreak is that 20 percent of people develop a post herpetic neuralgia (PHN), which leaves the person with chronic pain along a nerve path that is very difficult to treat and control.
The herpes zoster vaccine, “Zostavax,” is recommended by the CDC for all adults over the age of 60. Risk of getting shingles begins to rise after the age of 50.
Facts about the Zostavax shot:
1. Reduces the incidence of herpes zoster by 51 percent and incidence of post herpetic neuralgia by 61 percent.
2. Medicare part D will cover the vaccine cost of the shot, but administration costs must be submitted separately. Private insurance should be contacted to determine coverage.
3. Redness, itching, soreness and swelling at the injection site occur in one in three people.
4. Do not get Zostavax if you are: immune suppressed with an illness such as AIDs, lymphoma, leukemia, organ transplant, have used steroids recently, have active TB, are pregnant or are allergic to gelatin or neomycin.
Last year, some EmpowHer readers wrote that flu shots had given them or an elderly friend shingles. One poster cited an article which theorized that after vaccinations, the change in the body’s immune system might allow one to be more susceptible to shingles. To date, no specific research data supports that flu shots cause shingles.
One way to alleviate the concern of getting shingles after a flu shot is to consider getting a herpes zoster vaccine now to help build up immunity to shingles long before it is time for a flu shot.
For more info:
Singh A, Englund K . Who should receive the shingles vaccine? Cleve Clin J Med 2009; 76:45–48. Accessed at http://www.ccjm.org/