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Herpes Zoster (Shingles): Consider a Zoster Vaccine

By HERWriter
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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/

Reactivation of herpes virus infections by vaccination: evidence or coincidence? at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11103441

Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s healthcare and quality of care issues. Other articles by Michele can be read at http://www.helium.com/users/487540/show_articles

Add a Comment10 Comments

Thanks for your response, Michelle. I ended up taking a medication my daughter has on hand (can't remember the name) for her outbreaks of cold sores related to a childhood herpes exposure. After three days of taking the medicine, I finally started to feel better. Not only were my lower back and legs in pain, but I had a feverish feeling and a general disorientation. Don't know what was going on, but not taking any chances. Thanks again.

April 18, 2010 - 4:38pm

Hi RhondaR,

Sorry you have developed leg and back pain. I honestly don't see how exposure to someone who received a vaccine could cause the symptoms in you. The shingles vaccine contains weakened virus, enough for the person's body who receives it to cause a reaction in their body to build up immunity against it. The virus is the same as the chicken pox virus and that disease is only contagious during the rash/blister phase. This is from the CDC site

"Shingles cannot be passed from one person to another. However, the virus that causes shingles, VZV, can be spread from a person with active shingles to a person who has never had chickenpox through direct contact with the rash. The person exposed would develop chickenpox, not shingles. The virus is not spread through sneezing, coughing or casual contact. A person with shingles can spread the disease when the rash is in the blister-phase. Once the rash has developed crusts, the person is no longer contagious. A person is not infectious before blisters appear or with post-herpetic neuralgia (pain after the rash is gone)."

People with immune deficiency's should not receive the shot, but I have never read that those with immune problems should not be around someone else who got the shot. Cause and effect are funny things and it may be you have someone else going on that has occured that seems related. I hope you feel better soon. take care

April 15, 2010 - 4:14am

I had shingles in 2000 which brought on a downward progression of my general health, ending in a "diagnosis" of chronic fatigue in 2002. (Since chronic fatigue is an elimination illness, I went through testing for diabetes, cancer, thyroid disease, lupus, MS, and others as I had symptoms of all these illnesses but all tests came back "normal". Thus I was lumped into "chronic fatigue" because doctors couldn't quite figure out where else to put me!) I have been able to maintain by structuring my activities and not over-committing my time and energy levels, as well as have been on OTC and Rx sleep meds for the past eight years.

Last week, I took my 80-year old mother to have the shingles vaccine. I personally did not want her to have it, as now my own body has severe reactions to vaccine, but her body is not as compromised as mine, so I relented. I remember reading that someone who has an auto-immune deficiency should not be exposed to a person receiving the vaccine, but didn't consider it serious. For the last four days, I have developed what I thought were allergy symptoms, but now I have pain radiating throughout my legs and lower back. Could this be from exposure to a person receiving the shingles vaccine? Any feedback would be most appreciated. Thanks.

April 14, 2010 - 8:02pm
EmpowHER Guest

Hi Anonymous,

The Center of Disease Contorl recommends Zostavax (shingles vaccine) for use in people 60 years old and older to prevent shingles. It is a one time vaccination and lasts about 6 years but may last longer.

For more information regarding the shingles vaccination, please visit the Center of Disease Controls Website at http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/shingles/vac-faqs.htm.

I hope this helps. How old are you? Is there a reason you were interested in the vaccine?

June 17, 2009 - 1:00pm
EmpowHER Guest

Is the shingles vaccine a one-time shot? Is it suggested for people of all ages?

With thanks!!


June 17, 2009 - 12:50pm

I read in an article that there is a family tendency to acquiring Herpes Zoster which maybe explains why your father also got it at a young age. It is reccommended that those with a family history of Herpes Zoster think about getting the shot. It is possible to have another outbreak though I don't know how often people get Herpes Zoster again if they have had it once.

June 4, 2009 - 2:51pm

My parents were kind of shocked when we found out I had shingles at 10 years old. My dad got them when he was stationed in Germany in the army--he was probably in his 30's. He said they were horrible.

I had chicken pox when I was very young and my mom told me it wasnt a bad case at all...but shingles got their revenge, for sure.

June 4, 2009 - 2:19pm


I am so sorry you are going through this right now. I'm sure it is very painful and constant. Glad that anti-virals and cortisone were given to you. Those are the first line medications that can be given and are supposed to be most helpful at the beginning of a Herpes Zoster outbreak especially if the outbreak is on the face which can be very serious since it is close to the eye. I hope you are over the worst of it and recover soon.

I am surprised Alison that at that young of an age, you got shingles not chicken pox. That means you had already had chicken pox, even unknowingly, since you get shingles from a second exposure.

This link has a bit more on treatment once Herpes Zoster occurs but treatment choices are pretty limited.



June 4, 2009 - 2:06pm

I had shingles when I was 10 or 11 years old during the summer--which meant no swimming for me. I thought it was the end of the world (I attended day camp and we went swimming everyday for 3 hours). The pain was horrible and I couldnt explain it to anyone! They had no idea what kind of pain I was in from a "silly little rash". I have a scar on my back from my bout with shingles, and to this day have problems looking at water beading up on my skin without being reminded of my shingles rash and blisters.

I have heard that getting shingles as an adult was worse because the pain is more intense. I can's imagine going through that pain again or having it be worse. It is hard for people who havent had shingles to imagine the pain associated with this rash. I remember my mom washing my back because I couldnt reach it and the blisters popping and oozing..that memory alone makes me want to encourage people to get the vaccine. It truly was horrible as a child and I cant imagine getting them as an older adult. No thank you!

June 4, 2009 - 1:43pm
EmpowHER Guest

Am typing this with a full-blown case (about 10 days now spreading across the upper left stomach & upper left back..At age 58, this came to me as a surprise..But, felt over a month or so that something wasn't right with me...Being tired & run down & doctors thought that this was rlated to my hormones or thyroid.... But. think I was in the works for something that my immune system was under attack...And, now, the result was this now painful condition to show up...The discomfort associated with shingles is something I was totally unprepared for, even though had chicken-pox has a child... For me,shingles is so much more painful, with it's stabbing pain involved, & ...Am thankful though, that was prescribed an anti-viral drug & prednisone, at the onset to help speed up the process & help with inflammation...It is a very trying time for me to deal with this....Was thinking about trying to get the Zostavax shot after a time that I recover from this...So, that I don't have to go through this once again & read how it can also attack the head & neck & cause so many debilatating problems that might hang on, like nerve pain or even worse problems...Unfortuantely prior allergy back testing by allergist finds that I test positive for to neomysin sulfate & to avoid its properties...So, being that this shot has this chemical, I don't think that I can get it. ....I,do, though so appreciate this article & look for others comments on dealing with shingles & its aftermath on their health..... Sincerely,Marilyn

June 4, 2009 - 12:53pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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