Shingles vaccine debate

September 9, 2009 9:16:23 AM PDT
Shingles, or herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash caused by the same virus that leads to chickenpox. The condition occurs when the virus -- already present in your system -- reactivates. The rash often appears on the trunk of the body such as a band of blisters around the back and chest. Blisters often accompany the rash, and they usually persist for about seven to 10 days. Besides pain, symptoms include fever, headache, chills and upset stomach. Very rarely, the condition can lead to pneumonia, hearing problems, blindness, brain inflammation or death. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about one out of every five people with shingles continues to experience pain after the rash clears up. This condition is called post-herpetic neuralgia. TREATMENT: Shingles is often treated with antiviral medication to reduce the severity and duration of the symptoms. They work best if started within the first three days of the rash. Doctors also sometimes recommend steroids to reduce pain, swelling and the risk of developing post-herpetic neuralgia (Source: American Academy of Family Physicians).

PREVENTION: If you have had chickenpox, you can't catch shingles from someone infected with it. However, you can catch chickenpox from someone with shingles if you come in direct contact with the blisters. Last year, the CDC made an official recommendation that adults 60 and older receive the vaccine against shingles. The CDC does not recommend the vaccine if you:

  • Have ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to gelatin or the antibiotic neomycin
  • Have a weakened immune system because of HIV/AIDS or any other disease that affects the immune system; treatment with immuno-compromising drugs like steroids; cancer treatment like radiation or chemotherapy; or a history of cancer affecting the bone marrow or lymphatic system
  • Have active, untreated tuberculosis
  • Are pregnant, might be pregnant, or plan to become pregnant within three months after getting the vaccine
  • Are moderately or severely ill or have a temperature of 101.3 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
  • Although the CDC says the risk of the shingles vaccine causing serious harm is extremely small, about one in three people experience redness, soreness, swelling or itching at the injection site. In addition, about one in 70 people experience a headache after receiving the vaccine. People who have had shingles can receive the vaccine to prevent future occurrences of the condition.

    ? For More Information, Contact:

    Michael J. Muszynski, M.D.
    Florida State University College of Medicine
    Orlando, FL Regional Campus
    (407) 835-4103