Shingles is a significant illness, often developed in those over 50, caused by exposure to chickenpox in childhood. Some of the chickenpox virus can remain dormant in the body for many years, and may emerge as shingles at a later point. Shingles can cause painful blistering on any part of the body, and may result in a condition called post-herpetic neuralgia. In this condition, pain persists long after the shingles blisters have cleared. To the relief of many, a shingles vaccination was licensed for use in 2006.
The shingles vaccination has been shown to dramatically decrease incidence of shingles-about half the people who get it will not get shingles. Even if shingles does occur, cases tend to be milder for those who have had the shingles vaccination.
Because of early studies on the shingles vaccination, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended the shingles vaccination for people who are 60 or older. Some believe that people should receive the vaccination in their early 50s, since shingles can occur prior to the age of 60.
The CDC has also issued guidelines on who should not get the vaccine. Those who have weakened immune systems from chemotherapy or autoimmune diseases like lupus or HIV may not benefit from the shingles vaccination. In fact, they may actually get shingles as a result of vaccination. The shingles vaccination is also not recommended for women who are pregnant.
People who have had an allergic reaction to neomycin, or to gelatin should also not receive the shingles vaccination. Anyone suffering from a cold or fever should wait until they are better before receiving the shot. Lastly, those taking steroids may not be good candidates for the vaccination. The CDC recommends that those who take oral or inhaled steroids avoid the vaccine as well.
Those eligible to receive the shingles vaccination should be aware that the vaccine reduces but does not eliminate risk of getting shingles. As with any vaccine, a very small number of patients could have an allergic reaction to the vaccine, but generally, more minor side effects occur. About 30% of patients have redness, soreness or itching at the vaccine site, usually the upper right or left arm. 1.5% of patients who receive the vaccine may also get a mild to severe headache.
Since the shingles vaccination is still relatively new, one should talk with one’s doctors about the risks and benefits of receiving the vaccine. One can also watch the CDC website for updated information on any long-term side effects related to the immunization. At present, however, side effects seem minor as long as one adheres to the guidelines for giving the vaccine.