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  • Rajani Katta MD

Why I Recommend the Shingles Vaccine for Those Who Are 60 Years and Older

Updated: Aug 16, 2020

The rash of shingles, which usually blisters, can be intensely painful.

Are you over the age of 60? Or are your parents? Then you need to know about the shingles vaccine. As a dermatologist, I've treated a wide variety of skin conditions. One of the most painful is shingles. Shingles is also known as herpes zoster. It's an infection that's due to the chickenpox virus, also known as the varicella zoster virus. Once you've had chickenpox, the triggering virus lays dormant in certain nerve cells of the body. When the virus reactivates, it results in shingles. While the virus may reactivate for different reasons, the most common reasons are age (over 60 years) or an impaired immune system, such as due to cancer or certain medications.

The first sign of shingles is either pain or a rash. The rash itself is very memorable. It usually occurs on just one side of the body, and while it may start as red patches, it quickly progresses to large blisters. It usually occurs in a band, and some people describe it as a belt of blisters that wraps around one side of the body.

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Shingles usually occurs as a band of blisters that wraps around one side of the body.

Because this infection affects the nerves, it can be--and often is--very painful. Some people have even gone to the emergency room because of severe chest pain, since the pain of shingles can start even before the skin rash does. While shingles itself usually goes away within 2 to 4 weeks, it may lead to pain and sensitive skin that can last for weeks and sometimes even months. This pain and extreme skin sensitivity is known as post-herpetic neuralgia, and it can be miserable. This is why the shingles vaccine is considered such an important development. The shingles vaccine has been in use since 2006, and it reduces the risk of developing shingles by close to 50%. Although a number of people who receive the vaccine will still develop shingles, they'll usually develop a milder form. The risk of persistent pain is also less. In fact, the vaccine reduces the risk of post-herpetic neuralgia by 67%. The CDC recommends that people who are 60 years or older should receive the shingles vaccine. (Some individuals may not be eligible to receive the vaccine due to a suppressed immune system -you'll have to discuss this with your physician.) The vaccine is given as a single shot. It's estimated that protection from the vaccine lasts about five years, so individuals who receive a single vaccine in their 50s may not be protected as they age. Since shingles can be such a severe and painful infection, this vaccine is an important development. Although treatment with anti-viral medications early in the course of shingles can help reduce the symptoms, prevention is important. If you, or your loved ones over the age of 60, have not yet received the vaccine, I recommend that you speak to your physician about the risks and benefits of the vaccine.

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Dr. Rajani Katta is the author of Glow: The Dermatologist's Guide to a Whole Foods Younger Skin Diet. To receive future updates on preventive dermatology and the role of diet, sign up here.

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