A shingles vaccine is available for adults 60 years of age and older in the U.S. The vaccine prevents much of the pain and suffering caused by shingles when the virus that causes chickenpox reactivates in those with aging or compromised immune systems.
Shingles is a disease caused by the reactivation of chickenpox virus. Shingles most often occurs in elderly people and people with weakened immune systems. Common symptoms of shingles include a rash, usually along a nerve path, and severe pain. Sometimes the pain can last for months and be so debilitating that typical daily routines are disrupted.
Every year in the United States shingles affects between 500,000 and 1 million people. Individuals have a 20-30 percent chance of getting shingles during their lifetime. About half of the people who live to 85 years old will get shingles.
Although people do not die from shingles, they can be severely hurt by it. Perhaps the most common and debilitating complication is persistent, long-lived pain. The pain can be so severe that it leads to sleeplessness, feelings of helplessness and depression, weight loss, anorexia, interference with basic daily activities such as dressing, bathing and eating, and an inability to participate in normal social activities. The pain can last for months or even years.
About 15 of every 100 people with shingles have blisters that are associated with nerves around the eyes. This can result in reduced vision and blindness.
Scarring and concurrent bacterial infections can also occur at the site of the rash.
People don't catch shingles from other people. Only people who have had chickenpox can get shingles. They get shingles when chickenpox virus, which can live silently in the nervous system for decades, reawakens. This reawakening of an old chickenpox infection is caused by a weakening of the immune system from advancing age, viruses (such as the AIDS virus), or immune suppressive drugs used to treat cancers.
Yes, although people with shingles cannot give someone else shingles, they can pass chickenpox virus to others through direct contact with the rash. So if your baby has not yet had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine, she could become infected with the virus and develop chickenpox.
Unlike chickenpox that can be passed to others through coughs or sneezes, people with shingles can only pass the virus to others through direct contact with the rash. If the rash has yet to develop or has crusted, the patient cannot transmit the virus. Similarly, people who still have pain without the rash are no longer able to transmit the virus.
Once you have had chickenpox, you can get shingles. People who are 60 years old or older can decrease their chance of getting shingles by getting the shingles vaccine.
People who are 60 years of age and older should receive a single dose of the shingles vaccine.
The shingles vaccine is a more concentrated version of the chickenpox vaccine currently given to children. Both are live, weakened forms of chickenpox virus. The shingles vaccine contains about fourteen times the amount of weakened chickenpox virus than the vaccine for children. This amount of virus is needed to obtain a protective response in the aging immune systems of older adults. Due to the differences in the quantities of virus in each vaccine, they cannot be used interchangeably.
Yes, the vaccine protects more than half of the people from getting shingles and about 67 out of every 100 people from getting shingles pain.
Yes, common side effects included redness, pain, swelling and itching at the injection site. A small group of recipients also got a rash at the injection site.
Yes, people who had the shingles vaccine can be around babies. However, if they develop a rash at the site of the injection, they should make sure the baby does not come into contact with the rash if the baby has not been immunized against chickenpox or has not had chickenpox disease.
While people who got the chickenpox vaccine can get shingles, the frequency and severity of shingles is much less than that following natural infection.
|Adults 60 years and older|
|Disease Risks||Vaccine Risks|
Plotkin SA, Orenstein W, and Offit PA. Zoster vaccine in Vaccines, 6th Edition, 2012, 969-980.
Reviewed by: Paul A. Offit, MD
Date: April 2013
Materials in this section are updated as new information becomes available. The Vaccine Education Center staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.
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