Press-Republican

February 5, 2013

Vaccine can help alleviate shingles

By JEFF MEYERS
Press-Republican

---- — 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.

DISPELLING MYTHS

“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.

VACCINE AVAILABLE

“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.

Those who do contract shingles after receiving a vaccination may experience reduced pain from the condition.

LINK TO CHICKENPOX

Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. Only someone who has had chickenpox can get shingles. The virus remains dormant in the body until it reactivates later in life.

“There is a medical treatment for people who do get shingles, but it’s important to get to your doctor as soon as possible after you notice a rash,” Lucas said. “The anti-viral is most effective within 72 hours of infection.”

Shingles cannot be spread from one person to another, but a person who has never had the chickenpox can get chickenpox from someone with shingles, though this happens rarely.

SIDE EFFECTS

People with a life-threatening allergic reaction to gelatin, neomycin or other components of the shingles vaccine should not receive the vaccine.

Also, people with weakened immune systems from AIDS or another disease that affects the immune system or are on treatment with drugs that affect the immune system should avoid the vaccine.

People on radiation or chemotherapy for cancer treatment and those with cancer that affects the bone marrow or lymphatic system should also not get the shot.

Some people have experienced redness, soreness, swelling or itching at the site of the injection, and some have complained of headaches following an injection, but no serious problems have been identified with the shingles vaccine.

INSURANCE COVERAGE

All Medicare Part D plans cover the shingles vaccine, though the amount of the deductible a patient has to pay varies. Medicare Part B does not cover the vaccine, and Medicaid may or may not cover the shot. 

Many private health-insurance plans cover the vaccine, but people interested in obtaining a vaccination should contact their insurer.

Email Jeff Meyers:

jmeyers@pressrepublican.com

TO LEARN MORE For more information, contact your doctor or visit the Centers for Disease Control's website at www.cdc.gov/vaccines.