Shingles postules above the eye of an adult male.

What is Shingles?
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a painful localized skin rash with blisters. Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays in the body in a dormant state. For reasons that are not fully known, the virus can reactivate years later, causing shingles. A shingles rash usually appears on one side of the face or body and lasts from 2 to 4 weeks.

People who develop shingles typically have only one episode in their lifetime, but in rare cases, a person may have second or even a third episode.

The most common complication of shingles is post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN)
. People with PHN have severe pain in the areas where they had the shingles rash, after (at least 90 days) the rash clears up. The pain from PHN usually goes away in a few weeks or months; however, for some people, the pain from PHN can last for years and may interfere with their everyday life. As people get older, they are more likely to develop PHN, and the pain is more likely to be severe. PHN rarely occurs in people under 40 years of age.

In addition to PHN, shingles may lead to serious complications involving the eye. Very rarely, shingles can lead to pneumonia, hearing problems, blindness, brain inflammation or death.

The Statistics
Almost 1 out of every 3 people in the United States will develop shingles. The risk of the disease increases as a person gets older and about half of all cases occur among men and women over 60 years of age. However, it is important to note than even children can get shingles. There are an estimated 1 million cases of the disease each year in the U.S.

The Vaccine
The shingles vaccine (also known as herpes zoster) is the best way to help prevent shingles and its complications. People who have had shingles before should still get vaccinated as it can help prevent getting shingles again in the future.

On January 25, 2018, the CDC published new shingles vaccination recommendations in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). (The MMWR represents the final and official CDC recommendations for immunization of the U.S. population.). The CDC now recommends that healthy adults 50 years and older get vaccinated with 2 doses of a newer, more effective shingles vaccine called Shingrix®.

Shingrix® (also known as recombinant zoster vaccine) is:

  • recommended for healthy adults aged 50 years and older to prevent shingles and related complications

  • recommended for adults who previously received the older shingles vaccine (Zostavax®) to prevent shingles and related complications

  • the preferred vaccine for preventing shingles and related complications (Shingrix® is recommended over Zostavax®)

    • Important Information

  • It is important to get both recommended doses of new shingles vaccine (Shingrix®). The second dose should be given 2-6 months after the first dose.

  • You should get the new shingles vaccine (Shingrix®) even if you were vaccinated with the previously recommended shingles vaccine (Zostavax®) in the past. (You must wait at least 8 weeks after receiving Zostavax® before you can get the new shingles vaccine.)

  • The risk of hospitalization and death from chickenpox is increased in adults. Therefore, all adults who never received the chickenpox vaccine and never had the chickenpox should consider getting vaccinated. However, you do not need to be screened for a history of chickenpox before getting the shingles vaccine.

  • Treatment

    Several antiviral medicines (acyclovir, valacyclovir and famciclovir) are available to treat shingles, and can help shorten the duration of the rash and reduce pain. People with shingles should start taking antiviral medicines as soon as possible after the rash appears. People who think they might have shingles should call their healthcare provider as soon as possible to discuss treatment options. There are no effective treatments for PHN.

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