Every year, about 1 million cases of shingles are diagnosed in the U.S.
And one of every three people will develop shingles in their lifetime. Some people can have long-lasting side effects such as ear or eye damage if impacted in those areas.
But it is preventable and getting the right vaccine is key.
Shingles the reactivation of the varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. The virus stays inactive in a person’s body after they recover from chickenpox.
Stacy Quinn, DO, a family medicine physician with Baptist Primary Care, said the most effective vaccine recommended for adults 50 years of age and older, is Shingrix ®. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2017, the vaccine is a shot administered in the arm in two doses. The doses are given two to six months apart to increase overall immunity, Dr. Quinn said. The doses are generally only needed once in a person’s lifetime.
The newest vaccine is a non-live vaccine as opposed to the previous vaccine, which is a low-grade live vaccine and its effectiveness decreases over time, Dr. Quinn added. Some side effects of the vaccine can include redness and tenderness at the injection site. Some people may have fatigue or muscle aches and a low-grade fever. Dr. Quinn recommends people speak with their physician about eligibility.
Anyone regardless of age can get shingles, even children, though Dr. Quinn said it’s most common in people over 40 because the immune system weakens as people age.
How do you know if you have shingles?
- A painful, typically blistering rash
- Impacts one side of the body along a nerve pathway
- Often appears on the right or left side on the trunk of the body, but can appear on the face, including eyes and ears
- Tingling and itching in the area before the rash appears
- Fever, headache and chills are also symptoms
While shingles can appear anywhere on the body, Dr. Quinn said the face is the most dangerous.
“Shingles on the face can have lasting effects on a person’s vision and hearing, which can be permanent,” Dr. Quinn said. “While rare, it can cause vision loss and hearing problems.”
But generally, symptoms of shingles last a couple of weeks and can be treated with several antiviral medications. Certain pain medicines also can help with nerve pain, Dr. Quinn said.
If someone has active shingles, they also can spread the chickenpox virus to someone else who comes in contact with the fluid in the blisters, especially if the person exposed has never had chickenpox or has a low immune system. Shingles is less contagious, but it’s best to cover the rash.
“Once you get shingles, you also are not immune to getting it again. It would still be important to get the vaccination in the future, but wait until symptoms have completely resolved,” Dr. Quinn said.
Currently, the chickenpox vaccine is given in two doses – first between 1 year and 15 months old, and the second between 4 and 6 years old.