Should you get the shingles vaccine? Learn if you're at risk

By Dr. Al Mina | Dec 06, 2013

Question:

I've read a lot about shingles and the new vaccine for it. If I'm not sure whether I had chicken pox, so would you advise taking it as a precaution? I've heard the vaccine is expensive.

Answer:

Shingles is a painful rash on the skin that is caused by the herpes-varicella zoster virus (VZV), which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles because the VZV virus remains in our nervous system after the chickenpox infection is gone. The VZV virus can reappear years later causing shingles. People 60 years old or older, people who have medical conditions that keep the immune system from working properly or people who receive immunosuppressive drugs are most at risk for contracting shingles.

An episode of shingles will last for anywhere from two to four weeks and starts with a tingling sensation that turns to pain followed by a rash. Some patients also experience severe nerve pain. A person who has never had chicken pox can become infected by somebody with shingles. However, someone with a normal immune system who has already had chicken pox cannot become infected by a person with shingles.

Shingles is diagnosed by your primary healthcare professional typically by examining the rash; testing is usually not needed. Although there is no cure for shingles, there are some things that can be done to alleviate the symptoms. Those include keeping the rash clean and dry and taking over-the-counter pain medications. Other medications may be prescribed by your doctor to alleviate other symptoms.

According to the CDC, most private health insurance plans cover the shingles vaccine in people 60 and older. All Medicare part D plans cover the shingles vaccine. Depending on your individual health insurance plan, you may have to pay for a portion of the vaccine.

It is recommended that people 60 or older get the shingles vaccine, whether or not they remember ever having chicken pox. There are two types of vaccines that can help protect against shingles. One is the chicken pox vaccine, usually given to children but can also be used for adults who have not had chicken pox. The Shingles vaccine is recommended in people 60 years old or older who have had chicken pox.

Thanks for reading, and stay healthy.

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have questions regarding a medical condition, seek the advice of a physician or qualified health provider.

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