Herpes Zoster Vaccine – What You Should Know About It

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Herpes zoster or shingles is a painful infection of the nerves and skin caused by the virus that causes the childhood disease, chickenpox. After recovering from chickenpox, the virus will lie inactive in the body. After many years, the virus may re-emerge as shingles for undetermined reasons. Shingles is a common illness in the U.S., especially for people aged 60 and over. A herpes zoster vaccine is now available to prevent the occurrence of shingles or to reduce its severity and duration if you do get it.

Shingles is contagious and can be spread to people who have not had chickenpox. However, these people will get chickenpox instead of shingles.

What is Herpes Zoster Vaccine?

Herpes zoster vaccine is a live, weakened form of the varicella zoster or chickenpox virus. It is administered under the skin.

Who Should Get Vaccinated?

The zoster vaccine is recommended for anybody who is 60 years of age or older. One dose is usually enough.

The effects of shingles are typically more severe in older people, so it is important for elderly people to get the shingles vaccine. There is no maximum age for getting the herpes zoster vaccine.

Is it Effective?

The vaccine, Zostavax, reduces the risk of shingles by about 51% in adults 60 years old or older. The risk of getting post-herpetic neuralgia is also reduced by 67%. Research studies indicate that the shingles vaccine is effective for at least 6 years and possibly even longer.

Is it Safe?

The FDA approved the use of Zostavax as a shingles vaccine in 2006. Clinical trials were conducted in about 20,000 adults aged 60 years or older. The most common side effects included fever and headache as well as soreness, swelling, redness or itching at the shot site. Some people may experience allergic reactions such as skin rash, hives, itching, or swelling of the face, tongue or lips.

Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?

Those whose immune systems are compromised due to medicine, including cancer treatment, should not get the vaccine. People who have HIV, AIDS or tuberculosis should not be vaccinated either. The vaccine is not safe for pregnant women or those likely to be pregnant, or to people who are allergic to gelatin or the antibiotic neomycin.

Does the Herpes Zoster Vaccine Also Protect Against Genital Herpes?

The shingles vaccine protects people against herpes zoster or shingles. The vaccine does not protect against other herpes infections, such as genital herpes.

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