When Should I Get The Shingles Vaccine
The current shingles vaccine is a safe, easy, and more effective way to prevent shingles than the previous vaccine. In fact, it is over 90% effective at preventing shingles. Most adults age 50 and older should get vaccinated with the shingles vaccine, which is given in two doses. You can get the shingles vaccine at your doctors office and at some pharmacies.
You should get the shingles vaccine if you:
- Have already had chickenpox, the chickenpox vaccine, or shingles
- Received the prior shingles vaccine called Zostavax
- Dont remember having had chickenpox
Medicare Part D and private health insurance plans may cover some or all of the cost. Check with Medicare or your health plan to find out if it is covered.
You should not get vaccinated if you:
- Currently have shingles
- Are sick or have a fever
- Had an allergic reaction to a previous dose of the shingles vaccine
If you are unsure about the above criteria or have other health concerns, talk with your doctor before getting the vaccine.
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How Common Is Postherpetic Neuralgia
Varicella-zoster virus causes both chickenpox and shingles. About 99% of Americans over age 40 have had chickenpox. About one in three people in the U.S. develop shingles in their lifetime. Some 10 to 18% of people who get shingles will develop postherpetic neuralgia. Postherpetic neuralgia is the most common complication of shingles.
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The First Symptoms Of Shingles
Early symptoms of shingles can appear several days before the more obvious symptoms. However, some people will not have early symptoms before a rash appears.
The most common early symptoms occur on one part of the body or face. This often happens in the abdominal area.
These symptoms many include:
The pain can worsen as shingles develops. The pain can be sharp, stabbing, and intense.
It may also cause hypersensitivity, or an excessive reaction to touch.
There are also other early symptoms of shingles.
Although not every person with shingles will experience them, early symptoms include:
- general feeling of being unwell
Your doctor can often diagnose shingles based on these symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe medication to speed up recovery.
Medication also reduces the chance of complications, so seeking early intervention is important.
Lasting Pain After Shingles
Pain that continues for a long time after a shingles rash has disappeared is called post-herpetic neuralgia. This is the most common complication of shingles. Its still not clear how it can be prevented or what the best treatment is.
Shingles typically causes a rash accompanied by pain in the affected area. The pain normally goes away when the rash goes away. This usually happens after two to four weeks. Pain that continues for longer is referred to as post-herpetic neuralgia. The word “post-herpetic” means “post-herpes” because the pain arises after infection by the herpes zoster virus. In very rare cases pain can come back after a shingles infection, even if it had already gone away and the rash has disappeared.
The main symptom of post-herpetic neuralgia is pain in the nerves . The skin is often overly sensitive and itchy as well. This can make it difficult or painful to wash yourself, turn over in bed, or hug someone. The pain and itching can be very severe and might keep you from sleeping.
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What If I Have Shingles And A Poor Immune System
If you have a poor immune system and develop shingles then see your doctor straightaway. You will normally be given antiviral medication whatever your age and will be monitored for complications. People with a poor immune system include:
- People taking high-dose steroids. per day for more than one week in the previous three months. Or, children who have taken steroids within the previous three months, equivalent to prednisolone 2 mg/kg per day for at least one week, or 1 mg/kg per day for one month.)
- People on lower doses of steroids in combination with other immunosuppressant medicines.
- People taking anti-arthritis medications which can affect the bone marrow.
- People being treated with chemotherapy or generalised radiotherapy, or who have had these treatments within the previous six months.
- People who have had an organ transplant and are on immunosuppressive treatment.
- People who have had a bone marrow transplant and who are still immunosuppressed.
- People with an impaired immune system.
- People who are immunosuppressed with HIV infection.
How Is It Treated
It is best to start treatment as soon as possible after you notice the rash. See your healthcare provider to discuss treatment with antiviral medicine, such as acyclovir. This medicine is most effective if you start taking it within the first 3 days of the rash. Antiviral medicine may speed your recovery and lessen the chance that the pain will last for a long time.
Your provider may also recommend or prescribe:
- medicine for pain
- antibacterial salves or lotions to help prevent bacterial infection of the blisters
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Who Should Not Get The Shingles Vaccine
Some people shouldnt get the shingles vaccine. These people include those:
- Who currently have shingles.
- Who have had a severe allergic reaction to the shingles vaccine in the past.
- Who have tested negative for immunity to the varicella-zoster virus, meaning youve never had chickenpox. If youve never had chickenpox, you should get the chickenpox vaccine.
- Who are ill. You should wait until your illness has passed before receiving the shingles vaccine.
- Who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Is There A Vaccine For Shingles
There are two shingles vaccines currently available, Shingrix and Zostavax. Shingrix vaccine, a newer vaccine, is preferred over Zostavax for the prevention of shingles and its complications. Two doses of Shingrix given 2 to 6 months apart are recommended for healthy adults 50 years of age and older. Shingrix is also recommended for adults who have previously received Zostavax. A single dose of Zostavax may still be used to prevent shingles in certain cases for healthy adults 60 years and older.
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Can Shingles Be Prevented
There are 2 vaccines available to reduce the likelihood of developing shingles, Zostavax and Shingrix. If you are over 50, you can talk to your doctor about whether you need it. It is recommended for everyone over 60 and is given free of charge in Australia to people aged 70 to 79.
Vaccination will not guarantee that you will not get shingles, but it will reduce your chance of developing the condition. The vaccine used to protect against shingles is not the same as the vaccine used to protect against chickenpox. Read more about the chickenpox vaccine here.
How Long Do Shingles Scabs Take To Heal
Shingles scabs will take about 2 to 4 weeks to heal. The exact time frame will be different for each person. It depends on several factors, including the severity of your rash and how soon you get treatment.
However, even after the scabs have cleared up, the pain and discomfort can last for several weeks or months.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , about
Its important to contact a doctor within 72 hours of developing a shingles rash. The sooner you can get a proper diagnosis, the sooner you can start treatment for shingles.
Early treatment can help shorten the length of your infection and reduce the risk of possible complications.
You should also contact a doctor if you experience any of the following:
- blisters or scabs that wont heal
- signs of a skin infection, like pus or swelling
- worsening or ongoing pain after the scabs heal
- persisting fatigue or fever after the rash heals
- new blisters or scabs
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How Is Shingles Diagnosed
Your healthcare provider will do a complete physical exam and ask about your medical history, specifically about whether you have ever had chickenpox.
Your healthcare provider will likely know right away that it is shingles based on the unique rash. The rash usually appears one area on one side of the body or face. It appears as red spots, small fluid- or pus-filled vesicles, or scabs.
The healthcare provider may also take skin scrapings for testing.
The Stages Of Shingles Recovery
After the rash develops, which usually appears on only one side of the body, it forms blisters. You may feel like you have the flu or a mild fever. As you recover, you will typically go through these stages:
- Blisters begin to burst or weep about 5 days after they develop, and lasts from 7 to 10 days. You should take time off from work and other activities during this period, because you can spread the virus to others through the fluid in the blisters. Otherwise, you can return to work when you feel comfortable doing so.
- The blisters will scab over and begin to heal, which takes from 1 to 3 weeks, unless the rash is on your scalp in which case it can take several months.
- As they heal, the blisters become smaller and less painful, generally over a period of 3 to 5 weeks.
- About 10 to 15% of people with shingles will develop chronic nerve pain, which can be severe. Sensitivity to touch at the site of the rash is possible. The older you are, the more likely it is you will develop this disorder, called post-herpetic neuralgia, or PHN. The pain often lessens over time. Available treatments include anti-inflammatory injections, nerve blocks, certain tricyclic antidepressants, or capsaicin cream, which is made from chili peppers and can help ease nerve pain.
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How To Treat And Prevent Shingles
Shingles is treated using antiviral medications, such as:
To manage shingles pain, you can also use numbing creams like lidocaine, or place a cool, wet washcloth on your skin.
It’s important to get treatment as quickly as possible because, “people with shingles can develop long-term pain or itch after the shingles resolves if the virus does too much damage,” Kim says.
To stop yourself from spreading varicella-zoster to anyone else, try to cover up your rash when possible and avoid directly touching it.
The best way to prevent shingles is to get a shingles vaccine. The newest vaccine, called Shingrix, is 85% to 90% effective at preventing shingles in people who have already had chickenpox. If you have never had chickenpox, you will need to get the chickenpox vaccine instead.
Focus On Prevention Doctors Say
Prevention is the best way to avoid a shingles episode.
There is a vaccine that prevents the onset of shingles in people exposed to chickenpox. The CDC recommends that people age 60 and older get one dose of the vaccine. Vaccines are readily available at a doctors office and drug stores. In 2011, the Food and Drug Administration extended the vaccine use for people aged 50 to 59.
Wigand-Bolling said the vaccine reduces the incidence of shingles by 51% and the neuralgia associated with shingles by 67%. The doctor said the vaccine is injected and once vaccinated a person is protected for life.
Unless contraindicated because of pregnancy or being an organ transplant recipient or on chemotherapy, everyone over age 50 should be vaccinated, Wigand-Bolling said. I would recommend getting vaccinated to patients who may not have had chicken pox, or those who dont remember having chicken pox.
More than 90% of those identified in the study at increased risk of stroke and heart attack after a shingles episode hadn’t been vaccinated for shingles. The people in the study who had the vaccine still got shingles, it’s worth noting.
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Can Other People Catch Shingles
This one is confusing! You can catch chickenpox from other people, but you can’t catch shingles from other people. You only get shingles from a reactivation of your own chickenpox infection in the past.
So if you have shingles, and you come into contact with somebody else, they cannot ‘catch’ your shingles. But if they have never had chickenpox, it is possible that they could catch chickenpox from you.
To put it another way, no, you don’t ‘catch’ shingles. It comes from a virus hiding out in your own body, not from someone else. But if you have shingles, you may be infectious, as it is possible for people to catch chickenpox from you.
Only people who have never had chickenpox are likely to be at risk of catching chickenpox from your shingles. People who have had chickenpox should be immune from catching it again. If the rash is in a covered area of skin, the risk of anyone with whom you are not in close contact catching chickenpox is very low.
Shingles Linked To Stroke Heart Attack
Not only do shingles flare-ups hurt, research says they can increase your short-term risk of heart attack and stroke following the virus outbreak.
Shingles was found to raise the risk of stroke by 35% and the risk of heart attack by nearly 60%, according to a study of more than half a million people. The risk of stroke was highest in those under age 40.
Its been known for a while now that zoster causes stroke, said Dr. Gwen Wigand-Bolling, an internist at . The inflammation it creates causes heart attack and stroke, and shingles causes increased blood clotting in the arteries, she added.
The risks of both stroke and heart attack were highest in the first year after the onset of shingles and decreases with time, researchers said.
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What Outcome Can I Expect If I Have Postherpetic Pain
Theres no standard treatment for the symptoms of postherpetic pain . Depending on the severity of your pain, you may start with over-the-counter products. If your pain is more severe, one or more prescription medications may be tried. PHN is difficult to treat. Achieving a complete symptom-free state was achieved in less than half the patients with PHN, according to one study.
PHN tends to happen in older individuals who may have other health conditions, which can complicate treatment and results. Pain can last weeks, months and even longer than a year. In some people, the pain can be debilitating. In most people, PHN lessens with time.
A note from Cleveland ClinicThe best way to not get postherpetic neuralgia is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Varicella-zoster virus causes both chickenpox and shingles. Vaccines are available to protect against developing both of these viral infections.
Once you develop chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus remains in your body for life. If the virus reactivates and causes shingles, you have a few days around the rash outbreak to see your provider and get an antiviral medication, which can significantly lessen your symptoms. Still, if you develop PHN, your provider has many medications available to manage your symptoms.
Am I Contagious If I Have Shingles
Shingles cannot be passed from one person to another. But someone who has never had chickenpox can contract VZV from a person with active shingles. They would then develop chickenpox, not shingles.
Only direct contact with fluid from shingles blisters can transmit the virus. Keep shingles blisters covered with a fluid absorbent dressing to prevent others from contracting the virus.
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How To Prevent Transmission
You cant catch shingles, and you cant give shingles to someone else. But you can give others chickenpox.
After you have chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus stays dormant in your body. If this virus reactivates, shingles occurs. Its possible to transmit this virus to others who arent immune while the shingles rash is still active. You are contagious to others until all areas of the rash are dried up and crusted over.
To catch the varicella-zoster virus from you, a person has to have direct contact with your rash blisters.
You can help prevent your transmission of the varicella-zoster virus by:
- keeping the rash loosely covered
- practicing frequent handwashing
- avoiding contact with people who may not have had chickenpox or who havent been vaccinated against chickenpox
Last medically reviewed on August 24, 2017
- Cohen KR, et al. . Presentation and management of herpes zoster in the geriatric population.
Is The Condition Curable
There is no cure for shingles, but attacks can be rendered less severe and their duration shortened with the use of prescription antiviral drugs.
Several antiviral medicinesacyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovirare available to treat shingles and shorten the length and severity of the illness. These medicines are most effective if you start taking them as soon as possible after the rash appears. If you think you have shingles, contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible to discuss treatment.
Pain medicine, either over-the-counter or a prescription from your doctor, may help relieve the pain caused by shingles. Wet compresses, calamine lotion, and colloidal oatmeal baths can also help relieve itching.
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