Also called herpes zoster, shingles is a a painful rash caused by the varicella zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox.
Only someone who has gotten chickenpox (or, in rare cases, the chickenpox vaccine) can get shingles. The virus stays in your body and can cause shingles many years later. It is not contagious; you cannot catch shingles from another person with shingles.
A shingles rash appears on one side of the body and lasts for 2-4 weeks. The main symptom is pain. It can also cause fever, chills and headache. On rare occasions, the infection can lead to pneumonia, blindness and encephalitis. For 1 in 5 people, the pain can continue and is called post herpetic neuralgia.
Shingles is more common in people aged 50 years and older. It is also seen in people whose immune systems are weakened due to cancer, steroids or chemotherapy.
A single dose of the shingles vaccine is recommended for adults aged 60 years and older, regardless of previous history of shingles or chickenpox. A usual site is the back or side of the arm.
You should not get the vaccine if you:
- have a weakened immune system due to AIDS
- are receiving cancer treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy
- are on prolonged use of high dose steroids
- are pregnant or could be pregnant
- are allergic to neomycin, have a life threatening reaction to gelatin or any components of the shingles vaccine
Someone with a moderate illness or fever of 101.3 or higher should wait until they recover.
Consult with your doctor on what vaccines are right for you. For more information, visit the CDC’s website, call (1-800-CDC-INFO) or visit the Western NY Adult Immunization Coalition's website.
– Beth Nicastro
Beth Nicastro, PNP-BC, is a women's health community coordinator/educator. She also sees patients as a nurse practitioner at East Aurora Pediatrics.
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