Research from Kaiser Permanente Southern California has shown that the shingles vaccine is safe to take, even though only about 10 percent of people who qualify for the vaccine actually take it.
Shingles is an extremely painful infection of the nerves and skin and is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus as chickenpox. In order to have shingles, a person must first have had chickenpox, usually in childhood.
In the United States, the vast majority of adults have been exposed to chickenpox as children. Actually, all but 1 percent have had it by age 40.
Shingles is most prevalent with people over the age of 60, but it can happen to any adults who have had chickenpox. One-third of adults will get shingles in their lifetime.
◦ Red, slightly raised band or patch often overlaid with multiple small fluid-filled blisters
◦ Develops on one side of the body or the other, typically not crossing midline
◦ Spreads to multiple parts of the body — the “disseminated” zoster (in severe cases)
◦ Blisters dry out and crust (within several days)
◦ Affects mostly the torso and face
■ Affected eyes (in severe cases), which can seriously threaten vision
■ Pain on the skin at the site of the rash (usually severe)
■ Tingling or itchiness on the skin, which may start a few days before the rash
■ Skin in the affected area is unusually sensitive to touch
If a person is experiencing a combination of several of these symptoms, they should contact their doctor straight away.
It's unknown why the majority of adults have chosen to not be vaccinated. Several factors may be that people don't know the vaccinations exists, they are not aware that their risk is fairly high, or their doctors are not informing them about shingles at all.
There are also other factors including the cost ($160 per vaccine, although it's usually covered by all the Medicare Part D options) and the difficulty in shipping the vaccine that must remain frozen.
The research done at Kaiser Permanente Southern California has shown that side effects are very unusual and that the vaccine is well-tolerated.
According to the New York Times that covered the story, "Researchers studied medical records of 193,083 people age 50 and older, following them for six weeks after getting the vaccine. They found no increased risk for stroke, heart disease, heart attack, meningitis or encephalitis.
"There was no increased risk for Bell’s palsy or Ramsay Hunt syndrome, possible complications of infection with herpes zoster, the virus that causes shingles and chicken pox. The most common side effect was swelling or redness at the site of the injection."
“If we look at the data, we don’t see any risk of serious adverse events following the vaccination,” said Hung Fu Tseng, the lead author and a researcher with Kaiser Permanente Southern California."
According the EmpowHER's Shingles page, treatment is focused on keeping the patient comfortable, applying wet cloths, as well as using calamine lotion, over-the-counter pain medications, and/or antiviral drugs.
There is no way to prevent shingles (other than a vaccination, as studies have shown the vaccine to reduce the odds of getting shingles by 55 percent) and no cure.
Shingles can take several weeks to recover from, or even months for those with compromised immune systems or advanced age.
EmpowHER.co. Shingles. Shingles Symptoms. Web. Friday, April 27th, 2012. https://www.empowher.com/condition/shingles/symptoms
The New York Times. Health. Research. Prevention: Shingles Vaccine Is Shown to Be Very Safe. Web. Friday, April 27th, 2012.
Reviewed April 27, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith