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Have you noticed that the new shingles vaccine is causing an uproar in the healthcare world, but you aren’t really sure why?

What does this mean for you?

Do you need to consider getting the new shingles vaccine?

And what if you already got the old one…?

What is shingles anyway?

Today’s post will help you figure out what this shingles thing is all about, whether you’re at risk for it, and why it can be serious. Plus, it’ll help you decide if you should get the new shingles vaccine.

What Is Shingles (Herpes Zoster)? 

So what’s this shingles thing…?

Shingles is an infection, and it’s caused by the same nasty virus that causes chickenpox! Ohhhh…..chickenpox.

Here’s how shingles happens: Sometimes, after you get chickenpox, the virus that causes chickenpox decides to settle down in your nervous system and live there for a while. You can think about it like this: the virus “goes to sleep,” so even though you don’t know it or see any symptoms, it’s still there inside you.

As you get older, the virus can “wake up.” This time, instead of causing chickenpox again, the virus causes what’s known as shingles.

Shingles symptoms include a very painful, burning, red skin rash. The rash sometimes appears as a stripe and may be found on one side of the body – possibly on your neck and face.

It can take up to 3 weeks for shingles rashes to go away. That’s 3 weeks of pain, itching, and possibly fever, chills, and muscle weakness.

Who on Earth has time for that?

Should You Be Worried about Shingles?

About 1 in 3 people will get shingles in their lifetime, and they will tell you that it is a painful experience that no one should have to go through.

This is what a friend of mine had to say about her experience with shingles.

L. Harren's Personal Experience with Shingles

“Shingles are extremely painful and debilitating. Mine presented along my chest and back and were painful for two weeks. The scarring became less noticeable (with treatment) after a year or so. Although I’m not in the recommended age bracket to receive the shingles vaccine, I would recommend the vaccine in a heartbeat. Anything that would prevent that sort of pain would be worth it.”

Remember that the shingles virus lives in the nerves. Even after the shingles rash and other symptoms go away, pain called post-herpetic neuralgia (aka “nerve pain after shingles”) can last up to a year. A YEAR! If you have nerve pain for other reasons, you know how awful it can be.

Like chickenpox, shingles can also leave scars behind, but shingles can also have much more serious consequences.

A shingles rash in or around the eye can lead to permanent eye damage.

A shingles rash near the ear or on the face can cause Ramsay Hunt syndrome, which can cause you to lose your hearing or taste.

Not to mention, there’s a chance that the fluid in the shingles rashes can become infected with bacteria.

How Do People Get Shingles?

Even though shingles is an infection, you can’t catch shingles from another person who has it.

There is one thing, though, that puts a lot of people at risk for shingles.

That one thing? Chickenpox.

If you have had chickenpox in the past, you could develop shingles in the future. The chances increase as you get older. In very rare occasions, someone who got the chickenpox vaccine could also get shingles.

(Also, even though you can’t catch shingles from another person with shingles, someone who has not had chickenpox and has not had the chickenpox vaccine can catch chickenpox from a person with shingles.)

As of now, there’s no way to know for sure if the shingles virus is asleep in your nervous system.

So what other things could increase your risk of getting shingles?

You can use these questions to figure out if your risk for shingles is even higher:

  • Are you 60 or older?
  • Do you have conditions that make your immune system weak (HIV, AIDS, cancer)?
  • Have you received treatments that make your immune system weak (chemotherapy, radiation)?
  • Do you take medications that make your immune system weak (steroids, organ transplant medications)?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you chances of getting shingles are higher.

How Can I Lower My Risk for Shingles?

I’m glad you asked! Shingles is preventable.

Fortunately, there are now TWO vaccines that can prevent shingles.

Zostavax aka The Old Shingles Vaccine

You may have heard about the old shingles vaccine – Zostavax. If you’re over 50 or 60, your pharmacist and doctor have probably asked you about it.

The CDC recommends Zostavax for anyone 60 or older regardless of whether or not they remember having chickenpox. So how well does Zostavax work? (Spoiler alert: The numbers, while positive, are nothing compared to the new shingles vaccine.)

  • Zostavax prevents shingles in about half of patients who get the vaccine.
  • Zostavax prevents post-herpetic neuralgia in about two-thirds of patients who get the vaccine.

That tells us how well Zostavax does its job, but what about side effects?

A third of people got redness, soreness, or itching where they received the vaccine. And 1 in 70 people experienced a headache. (Don’t forget – you should always look up side effects for yourself. Here are several easy ways to find potential side effects.)

Alright, so reducing your risk of shingles by half sounds good – potentially helpful, but nothing revolutionary.

One major downside of Zostavax is that it doesn’t work as well in people who are 70 and older. That pretty much sucks because the risk of shingles increases as you get older.

This is where the new shingles vaccine really shines.

 

Shingrix aka The New Shingles Vaccine

Shingrix, the new shingles vaccine was just licensed in the US in October 2017. The committee that puts together vaccine schedules recommends Shingrix for all healthy adults 50 or older.

Get this – Shingrix has also given Zostavax the boot as the preferred shingles vaccine.

That is big. But why is this brand new shingles vaccine so much better than the old one?

It goes back to the numbers.

Remember that Zostavax only prevents shingles in about half of the patients who receive it, and even less in people 70 or older.

In the study that won Shingrix its FDA license, Shingrix prevented shingles in 96-97% of participants! PLUS it works just as well in the 70 or older age group as it does in the younger age groups.

That’s pretty unheard of.

As far as side effects go, as is expected with vaccines, people experienced pain, redness, and swelling. Some also reported muscle pain, fatigue, headache, shivering, and fever. (Don’t forget – you should always look up side effects for yourself. Here are several easy ways to find potential side effects.)

Do I Need the New Shingles Vaccine If I Already Got the Old One?

 

Looks like the vaccine committee’s verdict on that one is: “yes.”

As your read, Zostavax isn’t completely protective, so it may be worthwhile to get the extra protection that Shingrix offers.

 

Ultimately, the decision to vaccinate or not is your own. If you would like to read

the clinical study for yourself, you can find it here in

The New England Journal of Medicine.

Also, here are the Zostavax and Shingrix package inserts.

Have you received the old shingles vaccine? Would you consider getting the new one?

 

 

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