Many patients ask what exactly the shingles vaccine is and if they should get it and for good reason. A current TV commercial does a pretty good job of demonstrating what shingles looks like when it affects the face—and it’s not easy to watch!
Shingles (herpes zoster) is a painful rash typically affecting only one side of the body. It is caused by a reactivation of the chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster virus) that has lain dormant in your nerve cells (on one side or the other) since your original infection. The rash usually resolves within two to four weeks, but is uncomfortable and can lead to prolonged pain at the site of the rash called postherpetic neuralgia.
The shingles vaccine, Zostavax, is indicated for those 50 years and older. It can be given to those who have or have not had chickenpox, shingles or the chickenpox (varicella) vaccine. It should not be given to those who are immunosuppressed (ask your doctor if the vaccine is right for you).
So generally speaking, if you are healthy and getting up there (born before 1966), receiving the shingles vaccine is a good idea since it significantly reduces the incidence of shingles and postherpetic neuralgia.
Ralph Robertson, M.D.
Medical Director of Lackey Clinic