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Dr Russ Blog - Should You Get Vaccinated Against Shingles?
Should You Get Vaccinated Against Shingles?
Created on 4/27/2012

A sent in a very good question about the shingles vaccine, asking if she should get the vaccine if she is uncertain as to whether she had chicken pox as a child.

Shingles, also called herpes zoster, is a painful condition that most commonly develops in people over age 50 years. It is characterized by the development of non-specific pain in one area of the body, followed by the appearance of small blisters on the skin in the same area. The skin surrounding the blisters is often reddened, too.

Shingles is caused by the same virus that is behind chicken pox. Problem is, once you get over the chicken pox, the virus stays in your system, specifically in nerve tissue, where it essentially sleeps. Decades later it can awaken, causing shingles along the path of the nerve it has long called "home".

Shingles can be very painful. Yes, there are medications to help treat shingles, and the blisters go away eventually, but the best thing is to avoid getting shingles at all. And the vaccine can help.

Even if you don't believe you've had chicken pox in your lifetime, experts believe that over 90% of us either recall having had the disease, or perhaps don't as a result of experiencing only a very mild form, or at least have been exposed to the virus.

Thus, many doctors believe there is no reason to be checked to see if you have had chicken pox prior to getting the shingles (zoster) vaccine.

However, you should know that in rare instances the vaccine can cause a form of chicken pox or shingles.

If you don't believe you've ever had the chicken pox, you can ask your doctor to run a blood test which will help determine what kind of exposure, if any, you have had.

And then you can better decide, together, whether or not you should receive the vaccine.

But most people over the age of 50-60 years should, unless they have an underlying condition that might create a health risk.

Ask your doctor to be sure. For more information about the shingles vaccine, check out these web sites:

Thanks for sharing a great question, A. Be well.
Dr. Russ
** Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment. **  

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