Shingles, Its Vaccine, And Who Should Get It

Sometimes viruses stay in your body even after the initial infection is gone. Even more, some viruses might reactivate, infecting you all over again. This is the case with shingles, which can occur decades after a chickenpox infection. 

Shingles, Its Vaccine, And Who Should Get It

Sometimes viruses stay in your body even after the initial infection is gone. Even more, some viruses might reactivate, infecting you all over again. This is the case with shingles, which can occur decades after a chickenpox infection. 

Fortunately, there is a vaccine for shingles that prevents its occurrence and lessens its impact. Continue reading to see who benefits from the shingles vaccine and why this is one shot you don't want to miss out on. 


What Is Shingles?

Shingles is an infection resulting from the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), which initially causes chickenpox. This means that shingles occurs only in those who have had an infection with the varicella-zoster virus. 


The clinical manifestation of VZV is called chickenpox. Not all the persons getting the virus for the first time does have chickenpox, they are reacting asymptomatic to the infection. In both situations (symptomatic and asymptomatic infections), the virus is staying inside the body even after the clinical symptoms has disappeared. Instead, the virus remains in the body and can even become active again, which is when shingles occurs. Generally, those who develop shingles only have it once, but it is possible for it to occur more than once. 


Someone with active Herpes Zoster lesions can spread the virus to other people, who never had chickenpox or never got the chickenpox vaccine. This can occur if someone comes in direct contact with the fluid leaking from the rash blisters, or is breathing in the virus particles emitted by the blisters. Someone with active shingles lesions should cover their lesions. Since shingles results from a reactivated virus, someone with shingles can't spread shingles to someone else (they can only spread chickenpox).


The Symptoms of Shingles

Shingles mostly manifest in an itchy and painful rash that develops on one side of your body or one side of your face. The rash is made of blisters that take 7 to 10 days to scab over and 2 to 4 weeks to clear completely. If shingles develops on your face, it can affect the eye and cause vision loss. 

Some of the earliest signs of shingles include itching, pain, or tingling in certain areas, which is where the rash will then develop. The early unpleasant and painful symptoms can begin several days before the rash develops and can stay for a longer time, even the skin manifestations have already disappeared. Sometimes, you may also have a fever before the rash appears. 

In rare cases, the rash may resemble chickenpox and develop in a more widespread area of the body, but this usually occurs only in those with weakened immune systems. Unfortunately, that can include those with an illness or those who are older. 


Shingles Complications

Long-term nerve pain, called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), is the most common complication of shingles and occurs in around 10% to 18% of cases. In addition to being extremely painful and causing potential hospitalization, PHN can last for years and limits activity levels in those affected.


The risk of PHN increases with age, and older adults often experience more severe and longer-lasting pain than those who are younger.


In rare cases, other complications of shingles may include:

  • hearing problems
  • pneumonia
  • brain inflammation (encephalitis)
  • death


The risk of complications is higher in those with a weakened immune system.


Who Should Get the Shingles Vaccine?

While everyone can benefit from the VZV vaccine, there are some groups with risk factors who benefit even more from the vaccine.

The first group includes those with medical conditions that suppress their immune system. This can consist for example human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection and certain cancers, including lymphoma and leukemia. 

The other group includes those taking drugs that prevent their immune system from working as it should. These include for example steroids, medications taken because of an autoinflammatory disease or after receiving an organ transplant.

In both cases, the individual is more likely to see shingles development due to VZV reactivation. Or, if they have never gotten chickenpox, they may be more likely to suffer from this infection if they are around someone with shingles.  


Treatment For Shingles

If you develop shingles, several antiviral medications are available to treat it. They work best when taken as soon as possible after your notice the rash, and they help lessen the severity of the illness and the length that it persists.

Those experiencing pain from their shingles can also take pain relief medicine, including over the counter or prescription varieties. It depends on the extent of the pain which pain killer is necessary in each individual case.


Itching is common with the shingles rash, but local anesthetics and capsaicin (pungent substance of certain types of peppers) can help.


How To Protect Yourself from Shingles

The best way to protect yourself from shingles, especially if you have not had chickenpox before, is by receiving the VZV vaccine.


Two doses of the shingles vaccine (Shingrix) are recommended for anyone over the age of 65. The goal of this vaccine is to prevent shingles and its complications. 


In addition to older adults, anyone over the age of 18 with a weakened immune system, whether because of therapy or disease, should also receive two doses of Shingrix.


Even though Shingles often occurs only once, it can come back again. Because of this, it is wise to get Shingrix even if you have had shingles before or received the varicella (chickenpox) vaccine. Furthermore, everyone can receive the Shingrix vaccine, even if you don't remember having chickenpox before.


Not only does Shingrix protect against shingles, but it also protects against PHN, which can last for years after shingles develops and goes away.


If you’re interested in protecting yourself from shingles and its potential complications, book an appointment at our clinic to receive your vaccination.  






What Everyone Should Know About the Shingles Vaccine (Shingrix). (2023).  https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/shingles/public/shingrix/index.html


Sampathkumar, P., Drage, L., & Martin, D. (2009). Herpes Zoster (Shingles) and Postherpetic Neuralgia. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 84(3), 274-280. doi: 10.4065/84.3.274


Gershon, A., Breuer, J., Cohen, J., Cohrs, R., Gershon, M., & Gilden, D. et al. (2015). Varicella zoster virus infection. Nature Reviews Disease Primers, 1(1). doi: 10.1038/nrdp.2015.16


James, S. F., Chahine, E. B., Sucher, A. J., & Hanna, C. (2018). Shingrix: The New Adjuvanted Recombinant Herpes Zoster Vaccine. The Annals of pharmacotherapy, 52(7), 673–680. https://doi.org/10.1177/1060028018758431



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