Is the shingles vaccine for you?

- Dr. Jeff Harp of Highland Family Medicine discussed the shingles vaccine and who should consider getting it Thursday on News 8 at Sunrise.

Dr. Harp said shingles is a painful localized skin rash often with blisters that is caused by the Varicella Zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox.  Anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles because the Varicella Zoster virus remains in the nerve cells of the body after the chickenpox infection clears and can reappear years later causing shingles.

Many people continue to have pain in the affected area even after the blisters heal, a condition called post-herpetic neuralgia.  The pain is often difficult to treat.

Dr. Harp said in large studies the vaccine reduced the risk of shingles by about half (51 percent) and the risk of post-herpetic neuralgia by two-thirds (67 percent).  Research suggests that the shingles vaccine is effective for at least six years, but may last longer.  There are ongoing studies.

Anyone 60 years or older should get the shingles vaccine, regardless of whether they recall having the chickenpox or not.  There is no upper age limit.  Even if you've had shingles, you can still receive the vaccine to help prevent future occurances of the disease.  There is no specific time that you must wait after having shingles before receiving the vaccine.  Dr. Harp said there are some people who should not get the shingles vaccine.  That group includes people who have a life-threatening or severe allergic reaction to gelatin, the antibiotic neomycin, or any other component of shingles vaccine.  Also, people with weakened immune systems due to, for example, HIV medications, chemotherapy or some cancers should refrain, as well as pregnant women.

The shingles vaccine costs about $180.  Each insurance company has its own policy about covering the cost.  If you are interested in receiving the vaccine, consider reading the material from your insurance company or calling the company to find out whether the cost will be covered.  Also, talk with your healthcare professional, who will likely be able to arrange for vaccination. 

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