PLATTSBURGH — Vaccination against shingles can help prevent a painful and often debilitating condition that is most common in people age 50 and older.
Shingles, also called herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash that typically appears on one side of the face or body and lasts between two and four weeks.
For 1 in 5 people who develop shingles, the pain can continue long after the rash clears up, and the condition can lead to other problems such as pneumonia, hearing problems, blindness, encephalitis or even death.
“There are a lot of myths out there about shingles,” said Laurie Williams, education and outreach specialist for the Clinton County Health Department. “One of our jobs in public health is to dispel those kinds of myths and increase the public’s understanding, so people can make better decisions.”
One common myth is that shingles is a rare condition, but that is simply not true.
“It’s not rare at all,” said Ruth Lucas, a public-health nurse. “One out of 3 people will contract shingles at some point in their lives. There are different levels of severity, and risk increases as you age.”
People with weakened immune systems are also at risk of developing shingles, and healthy younger people have also been known to develop the disease.
“The best thing you can do to prevent shingles is to get vaccinated,” Lucas said of the vaccine that was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2006.
Health-care officials recommend that anyone 60 and older should receive the vaccine, which is readily available at most pharmacies, public-health offices and doctor’s offices.
Since the vaccine has been in use only over the past several years, it is still not known how effective the shot may be over the course of a person’s lifetime. The vaccine has been proven to reduce the risk of shingles by 50 percent.