Public Health Column from the Genesee County Health Department:
A new and improved shingles vaccine has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "Shingrix" is now available to adults 50 years and older in protecting against shingles and postherpetic neuralgia, one of the most serious complications associated with shingles.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared that adults who receive two doses of the Shingrix vaccine are more likely to prevent the virus from occurring compared to adults who received Zostavax.
Shingles is a painful rash that can be described as an extreme burning sensation. The CDC has estimated that one out of every three adults will experience shingles in their lifetime.
Shingles primarily appears on one side of the body around the face and/or torso. Before an individual develops shingles, they may experience a tingling or burning sensation under the skin in the region where the rash will appear.
The rash consists of fluid-filled blisters that scab over in 7 to 10 days. An individual can expect the redness to linger for about 2 to 4 weeks after the initial onset of the rash. Additional symptoms present with shingles may include: fatigue, fever, chills, upset stomach, and muscle weakness.
Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus remains dormant (inactive) in the nervous system for many years before reactivating as shingles.
It is unclear what stimulates the varicella zoster virus to reactivate in the form of shingles, but certain risk factors contribute to the virus reappearing such as age and weakened immunity.
Shingles can cause debilitating health complications such as postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), loss of vision, loss of hearing, skin disorders, and in rare cases, neurological problems.
Brenden Bedard, director of Community Health Services of Genesee and Orleans counties, explained that “postherpetic neuralgia can occur if nerve fibers were damaged during an outbreak of shingles. Messages sent from the skin to the brain no longer work properly, resulting in excruciating pain in the localized area where the rash was initially present. The pain can last for months, and sometimes years.”
PHN is one of the most serious complications individuals may experience with shingles. The CDC estimates that approximately every one in five adults who experience shingles will suffer with PHN. The older the individual is who develops shingles, the more likely they are to develop PHN.
Adults who are 50 years and older can protect themselves from developing shingles and PHN by receiving the new and improved shingles vaccine, Shingrix. The CDC recommends that adults 50 years and older receive two doses of the new shingles vaccine separated by 2 to 6 months for the most effective protection.
Bedard mentioned that folks who already experienced shingles or received the old, single dose, vaccine (Zostavax) should highly consider getting vaccinated with Shingrix.
Bedard states, “Although adults may have already received a shingles vaccine, they should consider getting vaccinated with Shingrix to increase their protection against the virus and the complications associated with it.”
Receiving two doses of Shingrix reduces the risk of shingles and PHN by more than 90 perceny in people 50 years and older.
Bedard continues, “Individuals who have already experiences an episode of shingles should receive this vaccine to prevent future outbreaks of the virus that could appear more serious. Since your risk of shingles and PHN increases as you get older, it is important to have strong protection against shingles in your older years.”
Anyone who experiences the initial onset and/or symptoms of shingles should contact their doctor right away. Anti-viral medications can be prescribed to lessen the severity of the symptoms. Although the symptoms might be managed, the risk for developing complications is still a major concern.
Receiving the Shingrix vaccine will provide superior protection against shingles. The two-dose vaccine is the recommended choice by the CDC in preventing shingles in adults 50 years and older. Talk to your local pharmacy or health care provider to receive more information on the vaccine.
To find doctor’s offices or pharmacies near you that offer the vaccine, visit HealthMap Vaccine Finder. For information about Health Department services contact:
- Genesee County Health Department at: 344-2580, ext. 5555, or visit their website at www.co.genesee.ny.us/departments/health/index.html
- Orleans County Health Department at: 589-3278 or check out our website at: www.orleansny.com/publichealth
- Wyoming County Health Department at: 786-8890 or visit their web site at www.wyomingco.net/health/main.html