Shingles and How to Prevent It
Shingles is a painful blistering rash caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox (varicella-zoster virus). After chickenpox the virus stays in the body and quietly lives in the nerve endings in the spine, but at times it can reactivate to cause shingles. The virus comes out along the nerve, causing swelling and damage to the nerve. A painful, blistering rash appears along the path of the nerve. The acute pain lasts for a few weeks, but approximately 10-15% of people will have a prolonged pain syndrome called postherpetic neuralgia, which can last from months to years. While shingles is not considered a life-threatening infection, the nerve pain associated with shingles is very difficult to treat and can cause much suffering. Shingles tends to occur as people age due to weakening immune systems. Approximately 50% of people after age 50 will develop shingles.
Can it be Prevented?
The Zostavax vaccine can prevent shingles. The vaccine has been available since 2006 and uses a live - but weakened - version of the varicella-zoster virus. This is the same vaccine that has been given to children to prevent chickenpox since 1995, but in a much stronger dose.
Zostavax is FDA-approved for use in adults after the age 50. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that Zostavax be given to adults after age 60 as a one-time dose. Side effects of the vaccine include pain and irritation at the injection site, a small rash at the injection site and headache.
Check back for my next posts, as I will be answering some frequently asked questions about the shingles vaccine.
Dr. Audrey Liu is an internal medicine / primary care physician who practices in Pompano Beach, FL at 2700 NE 14th St. Causeway, Suite 103.